Indians Melt into the American Canvas of Immigrants

MARRIAGE_INBy Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: Every Sunday for the past twenty years, I have lazily flipped through the pages of the 2-inch high stack of sections of the New York Times, taking in the news from far and near and marveling at the incredible number of stories that ordinarily are obscured in most local news outlets. I feel a tinge of satisfaction when I read my local daily, the Houston Chronicle, and routinely find a few articles from the Times in its copy, usually of top political stories or one of those interesting feature stories that only an investigative reporter could file.

Then there are the Sunday Styles and Vows section.

Like I said, I flip through the Times over my morning cup of Joe and after dreaming of far off places in the Travel section, drift into the Styles pages where you catch stories about new trends and trendsetters, artists, romances some lost and some rekindled, obits and vows taken by newlyweds.

For years I would simply glance through the Vows, which run at least one whole page (which can be 12 to 15 couples), and usually carries a picture of the happy couples along with a narrative that is their love story and short bio rolled into a concise few paragraphs. Occasionally there would be a whole page on a couple, written adoringly by a close friend or relative, and sometimes a follow-up a few years later on the outcome of their successful union.

Most of the couples who submit their stories and pictures (that’s right, you submit and have to pay a publishing fee for the pleasure!) come from the New York City area, which is, as a huge melting pot, representative of what is happening around the country in other large urban areas. And I have noticed a few striking but interesting trends in those twenty years.

First, if you take a close look at the couples, you’ll notice that they have very similar smiles and facial features, even if they are from different races, and only a few are exaggeratedly different. Could this be a harbinger of a successful marriage, I have often wondered? Is it some karma consciousness that brought these similar featured two people together?

In the past five years, I have noticed that many more gay couples have started to show up after exchanging vows, which also reflects the growing national trend, and the same resemblances surface there. And another trend that strikes home to me, as an immigrant, are the growing number of inter-racial unions. It has become a sort of statistical game for me that there will be at least one such couple among the pages, and there usually is. And among them, the number of Oriental and Indian – usually with Hindu names – couples is growing.

That brought me full circle to my own experience over the past fifty years in this country. My whole batch of college mates married into the mainstream or partners from another culture, whether Japanese, Filipino, Latino, French, German, Thai, Cambodian, Nigerian, you name it.  I myself married a Parisian and my best friend, Nick, a Sikh, married an Anglo girl from Pearland.

Of course, we became outcasts in our own native cultures which were heavily focused on raising their kids in the desi culture, emphasizing their involvement in Indian religious and pageant events and frowned upon marrying a “bahar ki” (outsider). It became hard to stay involved as the inter-racial couples tried to find a middle ground, and we hung around on the periphery of our own cultures, waiting for moments to fit in. Some marriages succeeded through all the cultural shocks, but many broke apart as the pressures were too intense.

Fast forward thirty years and the same desi families that tried to hold back the tide see they could do so no longer. Their own kids have chosen partners from the mainstream – almost 20 whom I personally know. So, despite years of immersion in an Anglicized Indian culture (where they even speak only English at home), they are more representative of growing up American than they are Indian. It is a tide that many other immigrant groups have had to ride and as King Solomon once said, you cannot hold back the tide.

And the Vows pages of the New York Times keeps showing how that tide is only getting stronger.