My first interaction with the woman I would end up marrying took place at a time when few people considered the 45th president of the United States to be a serious candidate.
Like a lot of flirtations, it began with a simple joke to get her attention. Anyone with online dating experience knows you have to be creative with your opening line if you don’t want to get quickly relegated to the sidelines.
After scouring her profile and discovering we had much in common in a mutual passion for social justice, I landed on the perfect opening:
“So … I’m assuming you’re planning to vote for Donald Trump?”
What was only a joke at the time earned me a laugh and won me the coveted first date.
Though we had much in common, it was clear we come from different cultures and backgrounds.
I’m about as white as humanly possible: 97% Ashkenazi Jewish heritage, according to 23andME. My wife is half Mexican and half Honduran with a diaspora of ancestral ties across the globe.
As our relationship progressed from casual to serious dating to our engagement and finally to our wedding, we confronted all manner of our cultural and racial differences along the way, and continue to do so.
Thanks in large part to events like the landmark Loving v. Virginia case, interracial marriages are common enough today. They continue to increase from 3% in 1967 (when Loving v. Virginia was decided) to 17% in 2015.
I’m a firm believer that adults have the right to marry whoever they want, regardless of one’s ethnicity, sexual preference, or any aspect of one’s identity. And about four in 10 American adults (39%) agree with me and believe that more people of different races marrying each other is “good for society,” according to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey. That shows an increase from 24% in 2010, and a decrease in the number of people who believe interracial marriage is harmful for society, from 13% in 2010 to 9% in 2017.
But what makes our partnership feel so different in the past few years is that our society at large is reeling with new challenges—challenges many people frankly thought we had overcome—from the racial tensions exacerbated by the rhetoric of our current president, Donald Trump.
When I look back, that initial line I told my wife feels a little more loaded now.
Why we need our differences
In our relationship, outside of discussing whether to have kids, where to live, and other common decisions to hash out, we talk about white privilege, systemic racism, and immigration.
It has helped us both learn from each other and grow in ways neither of us could have imagined.
This type of dialogue would be typical in the privacy of a marriage at any time. But since 2016, things have felt anything but normal. Topics once considered intimate now feel like a public statement.
Not to be naïve—America has a racism problem, and always has. But it’s different when these bigoted beliefs come straight from the leader of the so-called free world.
Trump’s words permeate every fabric of our society and bring out hatred, once largely hidden, into the light. And then he uses his voice to help legitimize it.
For my wife and I, this has meant our marriage has become a visible protest against the presidency. It’s not just a marriage anymore, but an affront to racism and ignorance.
That was never the plan.
I can see firsthand how an interracial marriage is good for our society. One of the best parts of spending every day with someone who grew up so differently than the way I did has been to learn about and truly appreciate cultures and experiences vastly different from my own.
That might be through studying phrases in Spanish as a way to communicate with non-English speaking family members, or getting to discover the music of Gloria Trevi.
Our relationship has exposed me to the challenges of people who grow up without the privilege (and the financial stability that often comes with it) that I was fortunate to have.
I learned how when she was a kid, my wife’s dad woke up at 3am every morning to get to his job so there would always be food on the table. I’ve seen the difficulties of the immigration system first-hand, and the stress and uncertainty families face trying to reunite loved ones spread out over multiple countries.
I have learned to read the codes and understand the harm of the subtle and systemic racism that often go unnoticed by those of us with white privilege (yes, white people, it is real. Learn about it).
I saw how swiftly this was exacerbated when my wife ran for local office for city council in a conservative district that voted for Trump in San Diego County.
We often babysit my nephew on my wife’s side of the family, who is half Latino and half white and whose skin tone is more similar to mine. When he would join us at political events on occasion my wife would often get asked—both alone and when we were together—if he was “really her nephew,” or if he was mine.
This persisted in Facebook comments, and in conversations about her run for office. In a disparaging tone, people continued to question if he was actually her nephew, implying that having a nephew who looks different than her makes him less likely to be related to her. And revealing that many people are still ignorant as to how diverse families can look today.
My main argument was how completely irrelevant the whole matter was in her run for office. It reveals how those with bigoted beliefs try to find any way to belittle those who are “different.”
When it comes to economic mobility for people of color, I’ve seen how the burden of debt has been crippling to my wife and her family members who had to take out huge student loans to get a quality higher education and decent jobs. They believed in the “American Dream” and thought hard work and education was the way to get ahead.
White privilege, generational wealth, and systemic racism make it more complicated than that. Through my wife’s eyes, I’ve become aware of the advantages afforded to me, including not having to earn an income while in college and graduating debt-free.
My wife has also been exposed to the middle-class American Jewish experience, which encompasses immense privilege in our country, but also hardships of its own kind, as we saw when a gunman opened fire at the Congregation Chabad—just an hour away from where we live— earlier this year.
Though I grew up thinking there were nuanced differences amongst the middle-class, my wife has made it clear to me that simply being in the middle-class was to inherently have wealth and privilege. For instance, during a visit home, I mentioned that the kids in an adjacent neighborhood were “the rich kids.” It was then that I realized just how subjective the descriptor “rich” was.
My middle-class upbringing was significantly more privileged than her more humble economic background. To her, I was among “the rich kids.”
Conversations like these aid in bringing people together, rather than further separating them.
Now, with the president’s America First platform and with his rampant use of racist tropes, it seems more important than ever for us to not only expose others to our relationship and all that we’ve experienced, but to speak openly about how our differences make us stronger together.
While it’s never comfortable to be stared at, we get a sense of immense satisfaction when displaying our love to people who grimace at the sight of us, when we’re just going about our day. The president has created a painful atmosphere for so many people that to thrive in an interracial marriage is now a small form of dissent against the hate being spread across the country.
Getting married should not have to be a protest, but if love is supposed to conquer hate, then hopefully we are adding some points to the scoreboard on the side of love, understanding, and partnership.