“Hey, I couldn’t help noticing that you two are a couple, so I just wanted to ask you, ‘What would attract a White girl to an Asian guy?'”
It was a Sunday morning. Junwen and I were walking out of the Santa Monica High School auditorium, where we had just attended a church service, when a young Asian man ran up to us to ask this question. Without thinking I burst into laughter and turned my face into Junwen’s shoulder, I suppose out of awkwardness and complete surprise.
The man must have felt the need to qualify his question, leading into his explanation with another question: “Do you go to school here in California?”
“Well,” I replied, not really sure where this line of questioning was going, “I did just finish grad school, and my husband did law school here…but before that I studied in Florida.”
“Okay, then maybe you know, but I grew up here in the Valley and then went to Berkeley, and what we’re taught is that the Asian male is marginalized because of certain stereotypes, such that the White female is never interested in dating him. So I was just wondering, since you’re together, what do you think would attract a White girl to an Asian guy?”
This conversation is one reason we decided to start our blog, The Dutchinese Couple. I’m pretty sure I stumbled through an answer that had to do something with Junwen’s character, his personality, how I could respect him…but all the while the guy was really trying to push something he wanted out of me. Part of his questioning felt like he wanted advice, part of it felt like we were unicorns that weren’t supposed to exist in this universe and he was trying to wrap his mind around why we were.
It was the first time we encountered such a perspective (at least, so blatantly), and I was reminded of this over the past weekend. A man greeted me, glancing at my name tag so that he could welcome me by my name. “Good morning Christine….uh….Lin? Is that right?” I just smiled and nodded and kept walking. At first I was going to leave it at that, but my annoyance and slight embarrassment got the best of me and I blurted apologetically, “It’s my married name.” The encounter, although it had no malice, made me feel like it was wrong to be named, “Lin”. The insecurity monster started to rear its ugly head, as it interpreted the question as, “Why are you claiming Asian heritage when you’re white? Don’t you have enough privilege as it is? You can never fit into this club. Nor should you try. That’s ethically unacceptable.” ::Shakes head to clear away bad thoughts::
I was going to say that it was surprising to get such reactions, seeing that in Los Angeles, we often see Asian/White couples. But then, only two memorable cases is pretty good I guess!
The reason our encounter with the Berkeley student was a prompt for this blog is that we wanted to create a space that shows that interracial relationships, while unique, are also normal. There’s nothing weird about me finding my Asian husband attractive, or vice versa, and I do find it slightly bizarre and a bit annoying that apparently that makes us unicorns to some people.
But I can’t be annoyed with the individuals…According to the Berkeley student, we are breaking the emasculating stereotype of the Asian male that has existed in Hollywood for years and that conveys white superiority. So, instead we will just do our part by sharing our lives with others. The more we and others like us do so, the more that wall can be chipped away until interracial relationships—particularly, Asian Male/White Female—are seen as normal. Through this process we discovered other Facebook pages and blogs and more blogs and more blogs like ours (only much better developed, haha!), and it’s been fun to slowly get to know others through their writing. I really don’t want to poo-poo the issue though, because it is actually noteworthy and interesting, and may lead to more posts in the future. But for the purpose of this post…
Perhaps other, less confrontational people may also wonder what attracted me to my Singaporean husband, so I thought I would include excerpts from a letter I wrote to him after our engagement that outlined why I wanted to marry him. (Excerpts because I write as many words as the Niagara Falls dumps water, and no one wants to read THAT much lovey dovey…) It also seemed timely, since today is Valentine’s Day. It was actually a fun exercise to read through it again. I think it’s a good idea to dust off old memories of why you and your partner got together in the first place. Bring some crackers because it gets pretty cheesy! (Note: Every “…” implies I cut something out at that location…gosh I write too much!)
What would attract this White girl to an Asian guy
My dearest Junwen,
…As I’ve previously shared, my first impression of you was that you were very optimistic, energetic, friendly and perhaps a bit naïve. Like pretty much everyone else you must meet, I liked you right away and appreciated your outgoing friendliness and compliments on my singing. I remember thinking you were a fun person, and was intrigued to find out our small similarities, like both having played two recorders at once in order to self-harmonize.
I was impressed by your charitable and encouraging character, like the fact you tried to donate plasma to the ailing student I shared about during Koi [a community group we both attended], as a specific example, and the way I observed you interacting with other church members and how naturally you lifted them up with words of affirmation and your sunny smile.
Along with everyone else, I was amazed and astounded by your musical talents…I don’t feel like I am listening to music, I feel like I am seeing inside Junwen, and continue to fall in love with that person every time.
It was through Koi cell where I was blessed to hear your insights into the Word as well as your sharing of your personal walk that I began to truly appreciate you not just as another church brother, but as someone I could truly admire, respect, and learn from. [For the non-religious: this translates to seeing his philosophical depth and learning life lessons from things he shared from his previous life experiences, which weren’t always rosy.] Realizing first impressions aren’t always right, I saw that what I thought was naiveté was simply your joy overflowing, and actually you were a very deep, thoughtful person who had learned much and grown much through your life’s journey—including your ups and downs, from your church involvement in Singapore, and from your mentors whom you spoke so highly of.
All of the details of how I exactly started falling for you have started to blur actually…Though I know going on the day-trip to [the orphanage in] Tijuana also left an impression on me. I think just having fun practicing the skit, seeing you interact with the kids, whatever it was we all did together only further demonstrated to me what a cool person you were. Then, as you now know, just spending time with you and getting to know you better at the Getty [an art museum] (and sensing some chemistry going on) really caught my attention. I really enjoyed learning more about your country, and finding out that it was not unlike America—being an immigrant country that relishes its diversity and enjoys both its heritage and its future prospects …Being able to learn more about the wonderful world we live in from you is one thing I really enjoy about our relationship!
It was in all these different settings, including leadership training where we all shared a lot (and I noticed we were the only ones who completed the assignment to review Torrey’s book [i.e., we were the responsible A+ student-types]), where I got glimpses into who you were, your values and beliefs, your character, and most importantly saw how you were a man after God’s own heart. All these things added up so that when Pastor told us that day in leadership training to go for the best, it was YOU who came to mind…Even though, as you already know, I didn’t really think anymore that you would consider going with me, since it seemed like you could date absolutely any girl you wanted. You were, after all, the best!
The thing is that a person needn’t (and can’t) be perfect. But the thing I admire so much about you is your desire for growth…To me that is paramount. In this world we can never achieve perfection, but that doesn’t mean we settle where we are, nor does it mean we mope over our imperfections…Courage can only be as strong as the fear which exists at the core—but courage chooses to face the fear and move forward…It is moving forward with our marriage even when circumstances said it might not logistically be easy. It is taking large steps of faith not knowing that there will be firm footing at the next point, but moving forward anyway. Among many other things you have helped teach me this.
Why do I want to marry you? Tell me why I *wouldn’t* want to marry you! You are the best thing out there.
…The fact that family means so much to both of us is very important to me, and I love how you demonstrate love and respect for your family and now also mine. As you know I come from a more traditional background, so respect for family…is something I cherish and admire about you, and am glad to be marrying a man who cares in such a way. Not only for our parents and siblings, but as we discovered early on I appreciate very much that we both are forward thinkers in general, and specifically with regards to child-rearing. I remember how we were happily surprised to discover we both were already trying to prepare for caring for a family, and I know without a doubt that you will make an AWESOME dad!
Junwen, in our relationship I feel that we really complement each other and will continue to grow with each other…As I wrote about at length, I have related to Tolkien’s character Eowyn as a protector and “strong one” who as such is often a lonely island and independent in order to care for those around her. But with you, I feel you wield your own sword and instead of having to protect you, I can actually rely on you to not only hold your own but to also cover my back in battle…Per my previous letter, you are Aragorn fighting your own battle and in our independence we do not “need” each other, but our battles are intertwined and as we fight for the same principles we assist each other, provide for each other, benefit each other, watch out for each other, and provide a safe haven of love for each other.
I already super enjoy the way we have naturally been forming our decision-making process, and look forward to being able to work as a team with you in marriage. Tied to the trust I have for you is my respect for you. It is one thing to respect a fellow human due to their inherent worth…but it is entirely a different thing to have a deep respect and admiration for someone as I have for you, which is based on …the wonderful character you have of integrity, honesty, respect and love for others…
These are foundational reasons for wanting to marry you, but there are so many other wonderful reasons, such as the way you can make me laugh and smile just from making a silly face or by saying something hilarious (or by your witty use of literary devices and vocabulary 😉 ). Or the way just doing the menial tasks in life like going to the grocery store becomes a fun adventure when you’re there. Or the way we can enjoy the arts together like music playing or craft making and being creative. And I wouldn’t make this letter complete if I didn’t mention how attractive I think you are, which is a major plus when considering you’ll be my spouse. ;-P I feel that even in our relatively short time together, you already know me so well, and our similar personalities lend themselves to a good understanding of each other which also aids in our decisions as our preferences usually align very well. I still find myself amazed at how similar we view things, have experienced things, and enjoy things even though we grew up on literally opposite sides of the planet. It’s just another mark of how I feel God was really creating us and building us for each other and for a common purpose and calling in this life on earth, as our meeting and joining is difficult to explain otherwise.
I feel safe with you—that you are looking out for me and my best interests. I feel deeply loved, accepted, and cherished by you…That you really feel that I am the best thing out there…That you aren’t settling, but you find me just as attractive and wonderful as I find you. And in that feeling of being loved and cherished and cared for, and through the trust and mutual respect we have for each other, I also feel the freedom to express who I am fully and to reach for the dreams and goals I have which are now being further defined and created with you.
There is no perfect way to end this letter, as I could continue writing a novel about why I know we are meant to join in marriage and why that brings me such joy and excitement. But perhaps an unfinished ending to a letter at the beginning of our life together really is the perfect ending, as it really is not an ending, but rather, a beautiful start to our story which I am thrilled to be writing with you for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, for as long as we both shall live.