The July 2014, AARP magazine reported that 15% of new marriages in the United States are mixed race marriages. Oh how times have changed! I don’t know what that percentage was when I married Al, an African-American man, in 1971, but it certainly was nowhere near 15%. Mixed marriage was even illegal in some places in the U.S. until 1967.
Our wedding was in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, but we moved to Seattle immediately afterwards.
Prior to our marriage, I was working at Highline County Hospital in Oakland. Just before I left for Seattle, an African-American colleague took me aside and advised me to keep my marriage a secret once I obtained a nursing job in Seattle. She said that if the hospital administration found out I had married a black man, I would be fired. Naturally, that news was very unsettling.
Al and I moved into an apartment on Capitol Hill, an area of Seattle that is very diverse. The fear that was stirred up by my Oakland colleague’s advice evaporated, for the most part, once I had settled into my new home. While it was not unusual for people to look at us, I do not remember anyone being hostile.
Her words did stick with me though so I decided to heed her warning and not risk my job. No one at my place of employment knew I was in a mixed marriage. I worked at the new hospital for a year, and then decided to go back to school to earn a Master of Nursing degree. Shortly before I left that job, I learned that my hospital supervisor, who was white, was married to a black man!
I was both astounded and impressed. She was in her 50’s, so she probably married at a time when mixed marriage was almost unheard of. She had likely experienced considerable prejudice.
I stopped working at the hospital about the time I learned that information, so never had a chance to talk with her about her marriage or mine, but that knowledge definitely kept me from feeling paranoid in the future. I had spent the year feeling fear that had been completely unnecessary. And I had robbed myself of a valuable mentor.
In 1973, we bought a house on Beacon Hill. That neighborhood was mostly Asian but there were also plenty of African-Americans and Caucasians. When we had children, Michael and Kristy (now called Sreejit and Chaitanya), they went to the grade school a block away, a school that was known for its diversity. They had plenty of friends, and their racial background was not an issue.
As they got older, people often wondered what race my children were, since it is often difficult to tell when people are from mixed races. Sreejit, as an adult, has talked about not being accepted totally into either black or white groups during his childhood. He shares his experience in the post Before There Was Multicultural.
I mentioned earlier that while no one was hostile, people certainly looked us over. The looks increased once our children were born. I remember reading a story in Readers Digest that really helped me cope with those looks.
The story was about a woman who was raising a mixed race child. She was really bothered by all of the people who looked at her, then looked at her child, and again looked back at her. One day she couldn’t take it any longer. When she was the subject of one of those “looks”, she lost her temper and screamed at the woman who was staring at her. When her tirade was over, the woman told her that she was also raising mixed race children. She went on to say that as she gazed at the mother and child, she had been wondering what their life experience was like.
That story stuck with me. I think of it frequently even today, especially when I am the one looking at mixed race children and their parents, feeling curious about their lives.
I love the choices I have made in my life. My children are wonderful. They are beautiful, smart, talented and loved by many. They live a life of service to the world. While in time my marriage to Al ended, we did a great job of raising our children together even though we were divorced, and are currently re-establishing our friendship from long ago.
As I learned more about Sreejit’s childhood experiences, it occurred to me I could use WordPress to look for information about the lives of other mixed raced children. I found some very interesting posts. If you are interested in learning more, check out some of these: