Interracial couples unite our cultures

Guest Column by Mavis Sayman Korsman

After corresponding via emails and phone calls for months, I remember the first time I met my husband, a Finnish-American, in person. I brought him to my aunt’s house in the Philippines to meet my family. Everybody was talking about and staring at his blue eyes, long nose and fair skin. My 85-year-old grandma even made a special eight-hour trip from her hometown just to meet him.

“If I was single, I would marry him,” she joked. “I’ve never seen a blue-eyed human being before in my life. I love those ‘fish eyes.’”

Opinions regarding interracial marriage do vary greatly from culture to culture. While people around the world generally settle down with partners of similar backgrounds and ethnicities, in my home country of the Philippines, many people are attracted to others precisely because of attributes that are different from their own race.

For example, the long noses of foreigners are very attractive to us. It fascinates me when I hear about some people in America having plastic surgery to make their long noses shorter. I am also amazed to see people tanning on the beaches over here.

In the Philippines, it is just the opposite; instead of trying to make our skin darker, we try to make it whiter. One can find numerous “skin whitening” creams on the shelves in Filipino supermarkets. Whether they actually work is a matter of opinion; although, my sister swears by them. And then, there are the umbrellas. We do not use them for rain. No, umbrellas are for bright sunny days to keep the sun from further darkening our skin.

In America, the number of multiracial marriages has increased over the years. In 1980, just 6.7 percent of new marriages that year were interracial. By 2008, that number almost doubled to 14.6 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. As the raw numbers of these mixed unions have gone up, Americans have become more and more accepting of interracial pairings. A 2009 survey by the PRC found that 80 percent of Americans, when asked how they would react if a member of the family were going to marry someone of a different race, answered that they would be fine with that.

What is surprising is how far these perceptions have progressed over a short time period. As recently as 1987, only 48 percent of Americans approved of interracial marriages, according to the PRC. And, of course, we do not have to go much further back in time to note and consider the racial turbulences of the 1960s.

I believe that interracial marriage is increasing, due to the world becoming a smaller place. Before, it used to take months to travel to the other side of the world. But now, not only can one fly to the other side of the world in half a day, but one can be there in actual real time via the Internet and other high technology devices. My husband and I met this way, and many of my Filipino friends around the Marquette area also met their mates in the same manner.

As the number of interracial marriages increases, people become more accustomed to seeing those unions, and naturally, society’s acceptance increases.

Indeed, while the number of mixed race couples increases and the acceptance of those marriages grows, there will most likely be a few of those who will not accept it. People have the right to believe what they want. What matters to me is how people feel toward one another and not how they look.

As a parent of interracial children, I often remind my kids that they are 50 percent Filipino, 50 percent Finnish, but 100 percent American. They should be proud that they can speak three different languages: English, Finnish and Mandaya (one of the 175 dialects of the Philippine Islands).

With three different cultures, our family tries to adapt and embrace the best parts of each. Most of the time, being an interracial parent is not something that I think a lot about. We live, work and play like any other family in the U.P.