Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Love, L.A. style: 'Mijo he's very handsome and SO tall! And, he's white!...Marry him!'

Photo by Anz-i/Flickr (Creative Commons)

It's no longer a news flash that interracial and interethnic relationships and families are on the rise as the nation goes the way of Los Angeles, becoming increasingly multiethnic.

But what is life in these relationships like behind closed doors, as couples navigate the challenges of work, children, in-laws, even different ways of communicating?

Tomorrow evening, I’ll be moderating a community forum at KPCC in which several couples will share their own experiences. Until then, I’m offering some sneak peeks on this site, as couples who are participating share a bit about themselves in mini-Q&A interviews.

Today’s couple: KPCC's OffRamp host John Rabe and Julian Bermudez, a producer of art exhibits. For a same-sex couple, some of the intercultural challenges are the same as those of male-female couples, others quite different. (There are in-law issues just the same, but they might have more to do with what a staunchly old-country mother tolerates, for example.)

John and Julian will share more on Thursday, but here's a taste:

M-A: What are the most important things you’ve learned from one another, in the context of your different backgrounds?

John: Re my behavior: This may be playing into a stereotype but my staid German self has learned to let loose with my emotions more, like a Latino. To be a little more warm-loosed. Re the world: I've learned quite a bit about the various Latino cultures - language, traditions, music, art - which I probably wouldn't have if I'd have dated/married a white guy.

Julian: It wasn't until I began dating John that I realized how "Latino" I really was. Common traits -- fiery, intense, passionate, etc. -- became more apparent to me as our relationship grew. However, over the years, I've become less reactive and fiery; much more calm and cerebral. Somehow, I'm a bit more like John used to be before we dated.

M-A: What have the biggest challenges been?

John: I can't say that the cross-cultural aspect of our relationship has presented any huge challenge. It's a spice, not the main course. Maybe that Julian's mom, who has since softened significantly, was a total homophobe, having been born in a Mexican village and considering herself very Catholic. But we deal much more with his father's side of the family, which has been here for generations and is much more American regarding the Gay. But any relationship will have problems with the in-laws.

Julian: There really haven't been that many challenges or obstacles keeping us from our relationship. My father and grandmother (his mom) have been extremely supportive, but in a way that is normal in the everyday experience.

My dad considers John his other son (never referring to him as his son-in-law). However, there is a tenuous relationship with my mother -- a Mexican immigrant who considers herself a devout Catholic. Although she has become more comfortable with the idea of my relationship with John, it was difficult for her to accept us early on. Other than that, things have been pretty good.

M-A: Can you share an amusing/enlightening/etc. cross-cultural moment?

John: We'd been dating a few months exclusively. At that point, in my world, we're "boyfriends," which to me and my people just means we've been dating exclusively for a few months. Nothing more. I referred to Julian as my "boyfriend" and he hit the roof. I told a couple Mexican-American coworkers, and they made the "oh no you didn't" face and explained that to many Latinos, "boyfriend" and "girlfriend" = practically engaged. In the meantime, you're "friends."

To me, it still seems a little silly to use a euphemism to refer to someone you're sleeping with (I'm friends with Zev Yaroslavsky and Steve Lopez but I'm not sleeping with them), but it's not a battle worth fighting.

Julian: When I first introduced John to my grandmother (my dad's mom) it was Easter Sunday. My family was having a barbeque in The Comptons. I knew the entire family would be there and I was sure they would get along with John; and vice-versa.

As soon as my grandmother saw John, I noticed her eyes light up and she was SUPER happy! When she and I had a private moment together, she said, "Mijo he's very handsome and SO tall! And, he's white! That's a good boy! Marry him!" This was followed by a sweet little giggle.

Read a Q&A with a different couple here. To attend the event tomorrow night at KPCC's Crawford Family Forum, check the event listing. Admission is free, but reservations are required.