Translating Cultural Boundaries- Keeping “relationship you” apart from “independent you”

(click to watch Seinfeld scene) Independent George

“Right now I have  “relationship George” but there is also  “independent George” , independent George is movie George, party George, liar George …but if relationship George walks through that door he will kill independent George….  (Seinfeld)

I begin with this excerpt of Seinfeld because it exemplifies how certain individuals truly prefer to keep what they consider as their “own social world” completely separate from their “relationship world”…. For them it allows them to feel independent. This preference can depend on an individual’s personality but it is also influenced by cultural factors. So, for intercultural couples this might be even more complicated than for non-intercultural couples, since expectations of “how you should act in a relationship” and social boundaries are culturally relative. That is why to avoid misunderstanding and conflict it is important to talk about what each one of you considers “normal” or “healthy” when it comes to your social life and your relationship.

Balancing individual and communal styles for intercultural couples

According to interethnic couples therapist, Joel Crohn Ph.D. “One of the most commonly cited reasons for attraction across religious-ethnic-cultural lines is the fascination between people from individualistic and collectivistic cultures”. However, based on my personal experience the same characteristics that  fascinate me about my partner also frustrate me in certain situations, specially when we don’t have clear  communication. For example I’ve had moments when my partner’s “independent” spirit crosses the line and morphs into negative interpretations,  best described as- selfish, self-centered, inconsiderate etc. and I’m sure my partner can say that at times my awesome collective style can be too much for him.

So for this post if you are part of an intercultural-faith relationship I would love to hear an example of how something that fascinated you about your partner’s cultural style when you met him/her, later complicated your relationship, and also please share how you and your partner resolved this. I think by sharing stories we can learn from each others experience and ultimately gain communication tools that can help our relationships grow.

Cross-Cultural Expectations of Gender Roles: Advice required!

Ok, this question goes out  to all the Mujeres-Ladies out there that are currently or have been in a cross cultural relationship: Has gender and cultural expectation of gender roles been an issue in you relationship? (who does what in the house hold, should the man pay for dinner? yes, no, most times, what did you expect what did he expect)

The Comedy about Mixed Relationships: “Racial Relations”

“Race Relations” is a documentary about intercultural, interethnic, interracial, and interfaith relationships featured by the comedian John Safran and was shown by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in the late 2000s. By radically transgressing the conventions of proper and respectful conduct Safran pushes his own and other’s buttons to rethink his preference for women who are from another cultural and ‘racial’ background. In several of the different episodes the comedian travels around the world to answer his burning question: “Should you stick with your tribe or escape the tribe?”

Safran combined comedy, performance art, and social experiments in real world settings. For some people his work might be perceive as blasphemy or blunt insult. But there is more to it. He sarcastically experiments with ideas and stereotypes put forward by popular books on cross-cultural relationships and marriages like Henry Makow’s “A Long Way to go for a date” in which a seasoned white man set out to find a ‘traditional’ wife in the Philippines. The idea, suggested by the author, that Asian women don’t care about men’s appearances but about men’s hearts, he tests by feigning to be an elephant man with severe facial deformities. The conviction that Asian women remain more attractive at a senior age as European women he assesses by intimately kissing some of his ex-girlfriend’s mothers.

Safran does not spare his own family, friends, and ex-partners in intercultural relationships to become part of the auto-documentary. He was brought up in a conservative Jewish family. One of his friends told him that he would not attend an interracial marriage and only join the celebration if Safran would marry a Jewish woman. In turn the comedian feigns to marry within his own ‘tribe’ but he actually puts the ring on a Muslim women’s hand. Her surname was allegedly Bin Laden, as he reveals after the ceremony.

I think Safran is at his best when dealing with stereotypes in his own culture or when mocking a holocaust denialist by putting him into a gas chamber. He goes over the top when he disguises himself as African American in order to find out how it is to be black, particularly when he starts to preach in a gospel church about how proud he is to be a “black man.” His naïve intention to provoke and to get away with it, however, seems to be part of a new genre of experimental sarcastic auto-documentary. Finally, Safran, refutes the advice that in an inter-faith marriage both partners should let go of their faith. He sets out to find a Jewish Eurasian woman. Is this post-racist preference?

Gendered Spaces in Mixtec Culture

I entered the room to see chairs placed in a circle, to my right 5 men sat next to each other and to my left 4 women, perfectly divided yet forming this closed unit. . . I walked in although chairs were available in both sides I chose to sit with the women. I was in Juxtlantepec in the Mixteca Baja in a family party, the family gathered to celebrate the first son to graduate from High School, I was a guest in this occasion. My experience not just in this party or this ocassion but in the time I spend visiting small towns in this region made me really think about how different cultures construct gendered space and gender roles, also how we reproduce them unconciously or conciously. If you are in a intercultural relationship do you find that your partner might have different expectations or understanding of  how to act in certain social spaces or situations?

Is there an African Sexual Culture?

Yesterday, I went to a Braai that’s a South African barbeque. The issue of sexuality, Blacks, and African sexual culture came up. I argued that many White South African’s are exposed to a distorted picture of Blacks. Throughout the history of South Africa many efforts were made to keep culturally and racially defined groups apart, ultimately to sustain the power and privilege of the White man. Unitl the 1980s,  sexual relations between Whites and so-called Non-Whites were prohibited Under the Apartheid regime of racial segregation. One rational for this was to protect White women from presumably sexually violent Black men. Just like in Nazi-Germany and the South of the United States intermarriage was legally impossible. Couples who nevertheless crossed phenotypic and cultural divides faced prosecution, arrest, and physical abuse.

“We have to look into the future!” the young woman at the Braai yelled at me when I tried to explain that crimes against humanity may take a long time to heal. She wanted to convince me and one of her friends that the racist past should not be talked about anymore. Overall, she claimed that black men would be more prone to rape and  more likely to be sexually abusive than White ones. She in part justified her opinion with a traumatic experience she once had on her family’s farm. One of the men she was working with she caught raping one of his male co- workers. I tried to point out that the main ways on which stereotypes and distorted pictures of others evolve is to draw general conclusions from single events. And even if Black men should be more violent in South Africa than Whites then one would have to find out why this is the case – not to make excuses but to look for the root causes of the problem.

It is very likely that sexual violence in South Africa and beyond is not a matter of “race” or “culture”. There is no African culture that says men have to abuse women or other men sexually. A recent countrywide survey found that the majority of rapists in South Africa have been abused in their childhood. This insight does not help their victims. However to change the circumstances of poverty and social disruption in which mostly Black and some White children are abused may well help to prevent male sexual violence in the future, no matter if Black or White. At this point my “intercultural advice” of the day is: Not everything you might think is about “culture” actually is.

UCSD Combat Racism on Campus

Interesting note, due to a storm of racist events that affected the University of California San Diego (UCSD) campus last quarter much awareness has been raised on the structural racism and day to day discrimination that exists on campus. One response is AWARE (Alliance of White Anti-Racist Everywhere) this is an effort to organize white anti-racism on campus. Is this an option for “Whites” to take a more active stand toward racism? Why is this important? How can this be problematized? and can this help members of intercultural couples who want to do something about the discrimination being inflicted on their loved one?

‘No-Go Area’ for Mixed Marriage in Germany

Recently, a protestant pastor spoke out against the harassment and violence his children and his German wife of Indian decent had to undergo in Rodolstadt, a small town in the state of Thuringia. One of the kids was found trying to wipe of his skincolour with a nailbrush in a local kindergarden. After he was asked why he did it he said ‘I have to get rid of the brown skin. The other kids don’t like it.’ When the teacher was asked what went wrong she just smiled and stated that the other kids were afraid of being contaminated by his skincolor. The bullying was not a single event. The boys mother had before been denied attendance in a shop and was recurrently harassed on the street and in supermarkets. She grew up in Germany and had never before experienced this level of racism where she lived before.

After the harassment became public the family received some ambiguous support. People put a banner on the townhall stating “We like foreigners”. In fact the mother and her children had never been foreigners and in any case the assertions came too late. Although the pastor stated in an interview that the majority of the residents were not racist, his family left the town. He then declared Eastern Germany a “no-go area” for people of non-white skin color. In turn some Eastern Germans felt stereotyped and discriminated against because not all areas of the former Socialist republic are haunted by racism.

In an interview with in a German daily the pastor changed his point of view. He made clear that it is only those people who feel as second class citizens that try to degrade others to a third class. Many, Eastern Germans feel in deed treated as second class by West Germans. This may in some cases be in deed a reason for high levels of right wing mobilization in some parts of Germany. There racism can make dignified life for a mixed couple, and particularly a mixed marriage with children impossible. For me this is a shameful fact, although so far our intercultural relationship has got along without bigotry, prejudice, and racism in Germany. Luckily we went to the right spots.