Stronger Together

African American man hugging Latina woman from the back while both smiling

Stronger Together

By
Delany Castañeda

Is your family okay with him? Is his family okay with you? Do you guys get stared at when in public? Is it weird being around a different culture? These are the kinds of questions I get all the time from people who find it interesting that I am in an interracial relationship. At times it can be frustrating, but I have learned to take it as an opportunity to educate others on topics like these. For many people, this is entirely new, and it is something they haven’t seen or experienced up close, and that is okay. I will answer those questions in a little, but I want to start by sharing a little bit of my story.

My Story

When I was little, I found it fascinating to be around different cultures. My first language was Spanish, and for many people, it may be a surprise since it is the language I use the least, but it was! When I began first grade, I only knew the basics of English, and I was in an all English-speaking class where I was pretty much forced to learn English all on my own. I was the only light-skinned person at my school. Quickly, many aspects of my life were affected by a culture new to me. I was surrounded by an African American culture for many years of my life growing up, and it is something that made me feel at home, although I’m Mexican. From a very young age, I began to be very fascinated by the talents, and abilities I felt their culture carried as a whole. Although there were a strong call and desire in me to know the entire world and I wanted to understand all kinds of cultures, there was always a connection in my life that drew me close to this specific culture since it was a massive part of my upbringing.

How We Met

Fast forward to the recent years of my life, I met my boyfriend, Aaron, when I was in High School. He is African American, and I am Mexican American. Ironically, we had French class together. He was a football player, and I was super shy. The only times we spoke were when he was making jokes with my best friends, and I would find them funny and laugh. So, in other words, our direct communication was very slight. Never in a million years did I think that four years after high school we would begin dating, but hey I guess that’s life, right? You never know what is in store for you in the future. When he graduated, he went off to the Navy, and I went away for college in Arizona. It was two completely different worlds. When I began college, I had the opportunity to travel the world and allowed myself to emerge into different cultures. Some cultures were harder to adapt to than others. The differences in cultures were night and day. If I learned anything from my experience of meeting people from all over the world, it was that even if I can’t understand the language someone speaks, the language of love is the strongest one. I was graduating from college while he was finishing his time in the Navy, but the crazy part is we both were coming home at the same time.

Although we thought we had so many differences, we were utterly wrong. In reality, our worlds were similar. Too similar. We both traveled the world and adapted to life in other countries for long periods. We both shared similar passions and dreams. We had common goals and values. Most importantly, we both had a dedication to our families. We were both in a transitional season where we were building our lives to accomplish dreams bigger then we could ever process. Through so much uncertainty, we were undoubtedly for each other, and that was beautiful.

Our Experience

You would think that because it is 2019, an interracial relationship wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but for many people, it is still mind-blowing. Although we have managed to stand up for ourselves and decide not to care what people think, there are still days where we wonder why it is such a big deal. Although we come from different backgrounds and have different shades of skin color, and it is so apparent to everyone around us, we forget! We don’t pay attention to those differences, and many times we wish others wouldn’t either. I would say our biggest learning struggle as a couple would be learning the different ways our families communicate with each other. In his family, there seems to be an understanding, even if something isn’t explicitly explained all the way. In my family, there is an over-explanation of stuff. Sometimes to him, it’s confusing when I over-explain myself, and for me, it can be frustrating when there is not enough of an explanation. Although at times, this can be frustrating, we have learned to laugh through the differences and enjoy the ride by simply trying our best to adapt to each other and understand each other’s backgrounds. In those cases, it isn’t necessarily anyone’s fault, but it’s just the way things are, and it takes some time to get accustomed. It has been both challenging and loads of fun figuring out what our world will look like from now on. We get to decide, and that is the best part!

So, to answer the questions I mentioned at the beginning, we have experienced close-minded people with insensitive comments. We have experienced the staring everywhere we go. We have experienced our races judging our relationship and wondering why we won’t just date within our same race. We have experienced challenges when it comes to adapting to each other’s cultures and ways of living. There is a language barrier. There are mean people out there. BUT…. We do have supportive families. We have acquired different perspectives. We have found a supportive community. We have learned to live our lives boldly together. We know where we are going together. We have found ways to guard our hearts. Through every challenge, there has been beautiful growth. We wouldn’t have it any other way, and through struggle and pain, we have become stronger together.

Tips

Love communicates across all barriers. I honestly believe that it takes a special kind of calling in your life to integrate yourself into a new culture because it does take selflessness and lots of willingness. Here are some characteristics I believe are super crucial when you decide to date someone outside of your race:

1. You must have an open mind. Being welcomed into a different culture means you need to have an open mind to things you have never seen or experienced before. Not everything will be exactly how you expect it to be, and that needs to be okay.

2. You must have a desire to learn. There will be many things to be learned when dating someone out of your race, such as language, foods, ways of living, ways of dressing, and traditions. Learning is a skill that we need to be ready to acquire because at the beginning; it really will be all about learning. Asking questions to your partner is the perfect place to start.

3. You must be willing to step outside of your comfort zone. There will be plenty of things out of your comfort zone from customs in how people communicate to trying foods you never thought you would! When you are willing to step out of your comfort zone, you genuinely grow and perhaps even find new things to love and enjoy along the way.

4. You must be adaptable. Not everything will be easy. Some things will be overwhelming, and some may be scary. Maybe you won’t agree with everything, but having an adaptable spirit makes everything easier. Learning about a different culture requires some effort and the ability to adapt outside of your comfort zone.

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