Interracial marriages: diversity not defined

Interracial marriages and mixed-race families still struggle to be recognized as the representation of regular Americans. One mom in an interracial marriage realizes that she has set limits on herself, and pushes to break her own boundaries, starting in the kitchen.

General Mills/AP
This undated frame grab provided by General Mills shows the company's 2014 Super Bowl ad for Cheerios entitled “Gracie.” Cheerios brings back its famous interracial family in a spot that shows a father using Cheerios to tell his daughter she’s going to have a baby brother.

Last week, I got out of my comfort zone by making a traditional Mexican dish called “pollo en adobo.” I did my research on YouTube, inherited some spices from my mother-in-law’s capable hands, and assembled all the necessary ingredients.

Finally, I had prepared a traditional Mexican meal for my husband after meeting him nearly five years ago.

I must’ve watched the YouTube recipe video at least ten times, making sure I was doing every little step exactly right. As my timer ticked down for the last couple minutes that the chicken and sauce needed to simmer, I realized I was so nervous I was sweating. 

When the dish made it to the table, my husband lifted the spoon to his lips, took a sip, and smiled.

I had never attempted to make authentic Mexican food before now because – as weird as it may sound – I’m white. As in, basic meat and potatoes culinary skills, turns lobster-red after a day at the beach (no matter how much sunscreen I put on), kind of white.  

I just figured that I couldn’t possibly make real Mexican food without somehow screwing it up. I know, it’s irrational, but that’s how I felt. 

What inspired me to take a shot at it? Thinking about our daughter. I realized that if I was going to limit myself to only cooking typical American dishes I was most familiar with, I would be setting a bad example for her. I want her to feel infinitely capable of making any kind of food she wants from both sides of her family. 

Having the opportunity to deeply explore another culture’s gastronomy is one of the best perks of my interracial marriage. It’s surprising to think that just two or three generations ago, interracial marriage was illegal in some states, until the 1967 Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia nullified all laws prohibiting it. 

Now, interracial marriage is becoming more and more common in the United States. A study published in 2012 found that 8.4 percent of all marriages in the US are interracial, making that about 1 in every 12 couples, up from only 3.2 precent in 1980.

But still, interracial marriage remains a controversial issue. Just last May, there was intense backlash on YouTube and other websites when Cheerios aired its commercial featuring a family that had a white mom and black dad. The follow-up ad depicting the same family ran during the Super Bowl, and also prompted many racist comments on Twitter and other social media platforms.

A recent Huffington Post article titled “Why I Can’t Be My Son’s Mother” shared actress mom Shannon Shelton Miller’s struggles with never being cast in commercials as the mom of her son, since he has whiter skin that she does. 

According to Ms. Shelton Miller, “Corporations will happily cast a rainbow of Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian, and African-American actors for their commercials in the name of diversity, but they're rarely cast together. I seethed last year when I read one casting call for a major retailer requesting "real" Caucasian and African-American families, and then, in capital letters in the next sentence: ‘NO MIXED FAMILIES.’ ” 

While America has come a long way in embracing a diverse range of skin tones, there’s still a pronounced stigma against mixed families. 

I’ve experienced both ends of the spectrum. My mixed family has been stared at many times, waiters have asked if we wanted separate checks, and airline ticket counter attendants have told me to go wait my turn when I approach the counter with my husband, not realizing that we’re together. 

We’ve also been treated with a level of normalcy that is refreshing, especially among our peers. A friend over for dinner recently remarked, “Babies from mixed parents are so beautiful and well-behaved. I think having to balance two cultures makes them more flexible, too.” 

Balancing two cultures helps kids realize that they can’t be smushed into a limited box, and neither can anyone else – we all have a diverse background and range of experiences that shape who we are. 

We are all better off when there's more diversity in society, which includes interracial marriages. As it gets more difficult to answer the question “What’s your background?" we become more alike because we realize we are all from mixed backgrounds. 

If my daughter is asked to answer that question, she will have a long list of countries to remember, including: Mexico, Ireland, Poland, Spain, France, and England as part of her ancestral roots. Most importantly, she will be able to state that she is from the United States of America. 

Like Coca-Cola's Super Bowl ad titled “It’s Beautiful” pointed out, America is beautiful largely because of its diversity. And not diversity that can be organized into neat little boxes, but diversity that includes diversity within it, constantly challenging what assumptions we come to adopt. When those assumptions are left behind, compassion begins.

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