“I can’t kiss you because this can’t get serious.”
There was an eyelash that was stuck to my eyeball. It felt like sandpaper, and when my girlfriend moved in to clear it, I made my move.
“I can’t do this! I cannot and will not date you!” We kissed again.
Jubi is a 2nd generation Indian immigrant. She moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania when she was just two years old and began her life of navigating two cultures, two languages, two types of food, and two sets of expectations.
Jubi spent the bulk of her childhood explaining why subzi and roti were her favorite foods. “But it looks so gross!” the other kids said. She threw her favorite foods away. She played The Cure and Joan Jett for her parents. “This is American music! Listen.” She explained to her teachers that her parents were working and couldn’t make it to parent-teacher conferences. She lied to her parents and told them she was at the library just so she could go to the new Dennis the Menace movie. She picked a college close to home just like a good Indian daughter should. She kept a promise to her parents. “Yes you brought us to the United States, but I will make sure that I marry an Indian man.” She navigated cultures well.
“I need to break up with you.” Jubi told me this about six weeks after our kiss. “Why?” I asked. “Do you not like me? Do I lack ambition? Aren’t we great friends? Am I ugly?” She laughed at me. “No, we have to break up because you’re white.”
I called her the next day. “Are you sure we have to break up?” “No,” she said, “I’m not sure.” “I’m coming over,” I said. “I have a rogue eyelash and I need help.”
I’m not sure when we decided or exactly how we decided, but about six months after our kiss we made a choice to tell her parents our intentions to get married. After all, Indian weddings were often arranged and marriage intentions were made early. If we’re going to get married then we have to do it according to her parents’ traditions. Jubi navigated cultures well.
It would take some work. It would take a lot of prayer. It would take trust building. It would take convincing. Some days it felt like it would take a miracle.
While Jubi was away teaching in a foreign country I made an unannounced visit to her parents’ house. They invited me in. They fed me dinner. We talked for an hour or two and then they told me that I should never come back.
The next time I went to her parents’ house they invited me in. They fed me. We talked for an hour or two. We even laughed. I saw a glimmer of hope. “These are good and loving people,” I thought. They told me that their daughter and I could be friends but I should never come back.
I called Jubi. I told her about the visits to her parents. She laughed and cried and we both wondered if this marriage would ever happen. “My parents have sacrificed a lot. I’m not sure they have the energy to sacrifice anymore.”
It was about 18 months after our kiss that my future wife returned from teaching in another country. She called me from her parents’ home. It took a while to figure out what was going on, but between sobs, I heard this story.
My future wife told her father that she was going to marry me. Her father asked why she would choose to marry someone outside of her culture.
“Because I love him!” she responded.
“Love is not a feeling,” her father said. “Love is a choice! If you choose to love him then you’ll be disowned!”
We met with the pastor of the church we were attending. He told us that there was no reason we shouldn’t be married. Our callings and commitments aligned. He told us that there was room for forgiveness and reconciled relationships later. I didn’t disagree. My future wife was adamant. “We’ll wait for my parents’ blessing.” I agreed. I was learning how to navigate cultures too.
Two years after our kiss we sat around the dinner table at my future in-laws’ house. I wasn’t alone. My parents and siblings were with me. Jubi’s sister and husband were there too. Months of praying, convincing, conversation, and trust building had culminated in a miracle.
My future father-in-law put his head in his hands for what seemed like an eternity, looked up at my parents, and said, “Yes, my daughter and your son can marry.”
Two years and nine months after our kiss we were married. It was a long ceremony incorporating the beauty of the South Indian Christian tradition with whatever tradition my Long Island upbringing afforded. My groomsmen struggled to stand the whole time. They forgave me. I was learning to navigate cultures.
Jubi’s father spoke at our wedding reception while the large and diverse group of guests looked on. He looked at my wife and looked at me. Then he said these words.
“Love is not a feeling. Love is a choice. And today as I stand here there is one thing I can tell you, my daughter and son-in-law chose well.”
Fourteen years after our kiss I watch my children give kisses to their Ammachi and Appacha (their Grandma and Grandpa). My children, the literal manifestation of navigating two different cultures. My in-laws joke around and hug the kids. My wife and I are fed and content. We converse and laugh with the family. And I’ve never been more thankful for my in-laws’ choice.
Photo (Flickr CC) by ruurmo