A few months ago, a friend of the family was telling me about how his wife gets heckled by some of their black female neighbors in their downtown Atlanta community for being a Puerto Rican married to a black man.
"I don't understand," I told him. "Why?"
"When we lived in Midtown nobody cared," he said. "Black, white, Puerto Rican, gay, stripper, transexual — nobody cared. They would just wave hello and keep to themselves."
I shook my head in disbelief. Who has that much energy to focus on such triviality like the color of one's skin? The more I thought about it, it occurred to me that the underlying reason may not be about the color of one's skin, but culture.
Black, white, Latino, Asian — all of us have a culture we are born and raised into. A culture we are repeatedly told is beautiful by our family and community, and year after year after year we'll continue to celebrate our traditions until the day we die. But as beautiful as our culture is to us, it can bind and restrict us from the opportunity to experience other cultures and beauties.
I think it's interesting when minorities protest haters of interracial dating when sometimes we minorities ourselves don't want to see "our own kind" pair with an outsider.
My mother, for example, is not fond of the fact that I, generally speaking, am not attracted to Puerto Rican men and usually pair with white men.
"You'll lose part of your identity," she warns me.
"I would never allow that to happen," I reassure her.
It's unsettling to me that my mother should think I have the failed sense to commit to a man that would dilute and not celebrate my ethnicity, heritage, or any other part of my character, really. And I have gone out with people of different races and ethnic groups, allowing me exposure to learn and to appreciate each person's culture on a more intimate level.
"So why do you date white guys?" a male Puerto Rican friend of mine once asked. He thought white people were boring. I explained to him he was hanging out with the wrong (white) people.
But, to answer the question "Why do I date white guys?" Culture.
My Puerto Rican parents were raised in Manhattan before they moved to San Juan, where I was born. We lived in an English-speaking household. My dad listened to Frank Sinatra, my mom listened to Carly Simon, and my older brother listened to Joy Division. My dad would make arroz con pollo on Monday night. But he made escargot for the appetizer, and on Tuesday nights he made linguine in a white wine clam sauce. In high school, I had blue in my hair and listened to punk and jazz. I was called a gringa. I was never Puerto Rican enough.
I never understood why so many of my Puerto Rican peers (not to be confused with friends ... my childhood friends are awesome) thought being Puerto Rican meant I had to listen to salsa music and reggaeton, only speak Spanish, or eat rice and beans every day.
While some people cling to their culture in a death grip so tight they stifle themselves, there are others who are always curious about what's out there. Those are the guys I like. The guys that can make a stir-fry food one day, hamburgers the next day, and New England clam chowder the day after that. The guys like an ex of mine from Michigan, who, 10 years after we dated, still calls me to tell me he made some Puerto Rican or Cuban dish I taught him how to make back when we were 19 and in college.
A Chinese-Jamaican friend of mine once said to me, "It didn't occur to me until I was older that when I was a little girl and someone would tell me a story, the default person I pictured in my head was white, never Chinese or even Jamaican."
I'm not going to say it's hard being a minority in America — not because it's not true, but because it's not true to me (so far as I can tell, no one has ever been ethnically prejudice toward me here in the States, at least not blatantly) — but for those of us who are a minority, our culture feels that much more important and a part of us because we live in a world that is soaked in a white default.
I get that my mom worries I'll lose my heritage in being with a white man, and I get that the downtown community where my friend of the family lives worries he'll lose his heritage in being with a Puerto Rican woman. But, ultimately, if we're ever going to really see color lines erased, we need to let go of our pride and our culture just a little, not just to experience that of others, but to share our culture with others, too. Don't let anyone ever tell you can't date someone because they're outside your race, heritage, or culture. Like what you like. Indulge. Culture is supposed to enhance us, not hold us back.