By Ninette Cheng
Northwest Asian Weekly
In 2012, one out of 10 marriages in the United States were between couples of two different races, according to the U.S. Census. 28 percent of Asian Americans married a non-Asian spouse, and as minority populations continue to increase, interracial and intercultural marriages are on the rise. A wedding is no longer as straightforward — there are considerations of tradition conflicts and unfamiliar foods and customs.
For Adora and Jim Brouillard, who were married in 1982, interracial marriage was not a common sight. Adora is Filipino American. Jim is white.
Adora came to the United States from the Philippines as a young child.
“I grew up in America but infused upon that are my parents’ very traditional way of seeing the world,” Adora said.
The couple grew up in the same neighborhood in Lakewood, Wash., attending the same middle and high schools. They eventually began dating in their twenties.
“My younger brothers were friends with her brothers,” Jim said. “I was pretty much color blind. I didn’t really care.”
When the wedding planning came, the decisions weren’t difficult for the couple, and the cultural differences were not discussed in much detail.
“There were some things that we just kind of agreed would be and that was that we would have Filipino food,” Adora said.
“We know people enjoy Filipino food. That was not even a question. My mom and her friends would be the ones to provide it. That’s pretty traditional.”
The reception featured Filipino favorites, including adobo, pancit, and lumpia. Adora’s family and friends served the food, giving them an opportunity to explain the dishes to their American guests.
There were a few American items, such as sandwiches, just in case. They also consciously chose not to serve balut, a boiled egg with a half-formed duck inside.
“We knew it was something that the American guests couldn’t handle,” Adora said.
But for the most part, the Brouillards didn’t have to worry too much.
“My coworkers didn’t care for everything, but I thought it was great,” Jim said. “My family loved the food.”
Because Jim and Adora are both Christian, the couple had a traditional Christian ceremony. Adora’s brothers wore barong tagalog shirts.
“One of the things we purposely did not do was have a diamond engagement ring,” Adora said. “That was more American to me. I wore pearls around my neck to honor my mom and to honor that Asian side of us.”
The guests were also very important to the Brouillards. Both agreed that it was important to invite their elders, including godparents and their friend’s parents, as a sign of respect.
“My dad was in the army,” Adora said. “Many of his friends were also comrades in the Philippines during World War II and were survivors of the Baton Death March.”
There were two aspects that were surprising to Jim’s family; they both related to money — the wedding registry and the money dance.
“We didn’t do a registry,” Adora said, “I talked to my mom and husband about it. The registry is very American. We got a lot of towels and several coffee pots.”
“The Americans didn’t bring money,” she said. “For the Fillipino guests, it was a mix of money and gifts. His side of the family was offended by this. That’s just what we do. It’s practical and you can do something with it.”
The money dance is a Filipino custom when men pay money to dance with the bride.
“When Jim’s side of the family saw the money dance at the reception, they were highly offended,” Adora said. “I could see that their reaction was surprised and not in a good way.”
Thirty-one years later though, the couple look back and don’t dwell on the money dance or registry — they remember the love and fun everyone shared.
Jen Nguyen, a Vietnamese American, and Aaron Wightman, who grew up practicing Reformed Judaism, were married last year.
Nguyen was born in the United States to parents who fled Vietnam.
“I spoke Vietnamese as a child and started speaking English as my primary language when I became school-aged,” Nguyen said. “My first visit to Vietnam was with my family at age 16.”
“I returned twice to travel throughout Vietnam as a pharmacist for an organization called the Vietnam Health Clinic,” Nguyen continued. “It was during these trips that I fell in love with Vietnam and was proud to be ethnically Vietnamese.”
Wightman grew up in a family that practiced Reformed Judaism, which maintains that Judaism and Jewish cultural practices should be modernized and compatible with the present day.
The couple met through a mutual friend and upon their engagement, quickly discussed the cultural elements of their wedding.
Nguyen wanted to have the Vietnamese wedding ceremony, the traditional ao dai, Vietnamese wording on the invitations, and Vietnamese food. Aaron wanted to make sure they performed the traditional stepping of the glass ritual and the hora, a traditional Jewish dance.
“There was no overlap or conflict between us,” Nguyen said. “We both cared about the other’s traditions that were important to him/her and his/her family, and actually were very excited about sharing our cultural customs.”
The couple had two wedding ceremonies and several events. They had a Vietnamese ceremony the morning of the wedding followed by a homemade Vietnamese lunch. Later that day, the couple had a traditional Western ceremony and reception.
Only family was invited to the Vietnamese ceremony while all guests were invited to the evening ceremony.
Nguyen and Wightman made sure the customs for each culture was clear to all the families and guests — they even went so far as to hire representatives.
“For the Vietnamese ceremony, there was a representative that worked with Aaron’s family to guide them through the ceremony,” Nguyen said. “We spoke in English during both ceremonies. The invitations had both Vietnamese and English wording. For the Jewish customs, our officiant, who is our friend and is Jewish, introduced the breaking the glass at the ceremony.”
While Nguyen and Wightman didn’t have many conflicts, there are always compromises that must be made with family.
“It’s important to recognize early on that there are four groups involved who all have their own desires for what traditions are included — the bride, groom and the parents on each side,” Wightman said. “Not any group will end up getting exactly what they picture the wedding to be at the beginning of the planning process, but it’s important to identify the issues that matter most to you and your partner and to make sure that those are included.”
In a way, couples like the Brouillards, who married long before the latest census results, paved the way for couples like Nguyen and Wightman.
“When I came to America, it wasn’t about diversity in the sense that you honor what people bring to the table as being different,” Adora said. “It was about a melting pot, fusing and getting into the culture and blending in as quickly as possible.”
“The experience I had as a child in the 1960s and 1970s will be very different than someone who’s come to the U.S. relatively recently,” she said. “When we came to the U.S., they told us to only speak English. Now, they say to teach your children as many languages as they can and to preserve your culture.”
Jim summed up his solution to compromise quite simply.
“Everybody is different but if you love the woman, then you’ll adjust to the situation.” (end)
Ninette Cheng can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.