Marriage and the Indian Diaspora
We receive a letter (pre-telephone days for our household, the arrival of the postman was eagerly anticipated). The letter is from my mother's aunt, annoucing that her son who was in the US pursuing a PhD is engaged to be married. This is how the conversation between me and my mom went:
Me: So who is he marrying? What does she do?
Mom: She grew up in D...(Mom's hometown). She's studying for a Masters in Math.
Me: What? He's not marrying an American?
Mom: What do you mean? Why would he marry an American woman?
Me: He lives in America. Why should he marry a Bengali woman?
Mom (gives me a hard weirded-out look): We don't do those things. We marry our own kind, and he's a very good boy who let his parents choose his spouse.
Me: Oh no! Don't tell me he's having an arranged marriage!
Don't ask me why, but I always assumed that my uncle, studying in the US, was statistically far more likely to date an American (and I excluded Indian-American from the list) woman. It was a bit of a shock that not only did he not date an American woman, but he actually came over to India on vacation and got engaged to a girl shortlisted by his parents. I had a hard time understanding why an Indian immigrant man might want to seek out his own kind, facilitated by his parents; the fact that Indian-Americans might want to seek Indians and Indian-Americans for the purposes of marriage was beyond my comprehension.
But then, over the years, I've come around to understand to an extent why cultural affinity is uppermost in the minds of a majority of people when they think of marriage. I personally cannot relate to it, I've never, ever pondered over the question of cultural affinity in picking out dates. But cross-cultural relationships require a lot going for them, not the least being the willingness of the persons involved to look beyond differences and focus on similarities.
That's easier said than done, and depends to a great extent on the value systems of the persons involved. An acquaintance of mine, an Indian woman, was dating a Turkish man for 5 years before they broke off their relationship. The reason? Disagreement over the religion their yet unborn children would follow! Religion is a huge bogeyman for many, and many in the Indian diaspora are brought up by conservative parents who incessantly drill it in them to "keep their faith".
In fact, religion is a big deal for many diasporic communities, not simply because the norms of a previous generation get fossilized, but also because religion becomes a focal point for the community to bond over. Many Greek-Americans actively seek out followers of the Greek Orthodox faith, so this is not just confined to the Indian community.
And then of course, there is the amorphous, hard to define concept of "shared culture", which could mean anything from childhoods spent preparing for Spelling Bee Contests, to keeping track of Shah Rukh Khan's hairstyles over the years. This of course would only apply to Indian-Americans seeking other Indian-Americans, and indeed that's exactly what an overwhelming majority are looking for, if Shaadi.com profiles are to be believed (yes, I have many stellar uses of my time, including trolling Shaadi.com for the priceless amusing profiles).
In fact, the relationship between an Indian-American and an Indian who grew up in India would have cross-cultural dynamics, and there are many Indian-Americans who are loathe to take that on, besides of course unwilling to become visa and green card mules. But there are some Indian-Americans who would actively seek out spouses from the old country, and perhaps these persons were the focus of Rimi's comment (Rimi, please clarify).
Now I personally know only one Indian-American woman who got married to an Indian man who was raised in India. As far as I could tell, primarily it seemed that she held the notion that someone raised in India would have a stronger commitment to what are perceived as "Indian values": loyalty to the girlfriend, commitment to a long term relationship (and the institution of marriage), and specifically the idea that dating would eventually lead to marriage. In fact, she made him commit to a wedding in the future even before she went on their first date!
Now gender reverse all of these things for an Indian-American man seeking a desi woman raised in India. Of course I'm not implying that's the only reason why an Indian-American man might date an Indian woman, he might be just attracted to her, period. However, if an Indian-American man insists on only going out with women raised in India (usually for the express purposes of marriage), probably he has a few of these ideas in his mind.
He may have grown up with the exotized ideal of a submissive,homebound desi woman, projecting perhaps the qualities his mother possesses on contemporary Indian women. Again, this is not merely confined to the Indian-American man, a lot of Caucasian men have similar fantasies about "docile, meek" Asian women. He may have a very romantic and regressive notion of an ideal family, and feel that a woman raised with "old world values" is best suited to raise such a family. He may be disillusioned with Indian-American women for some reason (real or imagined) and seek out an alternative in the form of Indian women. And finally, I think there is the very real concern about the compatability between his future wife and his parents, and he might feel that a woman raised in India would be the best fit with his family.
All this pop analysis isn't backed with a shred of data, but is mostly gleaned from conversations, lives of acquaintances, debates and articles about the subject over the years. Now that I re-read the post, it seems to give the impression that cross-cultural marriages are very rare in the Indian diaspora. Far from it, I've seen several cross-cultural relationships and marriages involving one Indian or Indian-American partner and someone from another culture. It's really cute when the kids from such relationships are brought to community celebrations, heartening to see how effortlessly they seem to straddle two cultures and glean the best from them.
Ultimately it all depends on whether you focus on the commonalities that transcend differences, or choose to opt for what is ostensibly familiar. I try to be objective, but I will say that there's something magical when a girl from the Midwest and a boy from Bangalore are brought together over their shared love of rock music. Or a girl from Pakistan bowls over a US Marine, and a he dances the bhangra on their wedding. Or an Indian man, married for over 30 years to an American woman celebrating their son's graduation.