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

A girlfriend from the 'wrong' race: New memoir takes on interracial romance

Photo by WolfS♡ul/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Over the past few months we've presented a few different takes on interracial relationships, social territory that even in an increasingly multiethnic country remains full of unexpected land mines.

We've learned about how Internet daters prefer to stick with their own race, and have read the reflections of a biracial father - ridiculed for his own name as a child - as he searched for the right name to give his multiracial baby. In one popular post, KPCC's OnCentral blog editor Kim Bui let us in on the uncomfortable questions directed at Asian women with white partners.

But what about white women who date outside their race? Writer and actress Diane Farr was on the other side of that coin when she began her relationship with her now-husband Seung Yong Chung, a Korean American who told her early on in their romance that their relationship would not go over well with his family. Their story, which had a happy ending, is the basis for Farr's new memoir, titled “Kissing Outside the Lines: A True Story of Love and Race and Happily Ever After,” published last month by Seal Press.

Farr provided a taste of the book earlier this month in a "Modern Love" column for the New York Times. Among the most interesting things in the piece was what she learned in conversations with friends after her then-boyfriend told her, "I’m supposed to marry a Korean girl.”

What I soon found out was that my friends of all colors, faiths and traditions had had a similar talking-to from their parents. Despite having been in this country for generations longer than mine, their parents, too, had been told there was a right and an “over my dead body” choice for love.

I continued asking questions: “And how much did your parents’ initial disapproval impact your decision to marry? And does it persist or affect your relationship now?”

By phone, over dinner and through e-mail, people’s honest responses started flooding in.

“I have to marry Jewish or I’m cut off,” my Jewish friend said.

“Cut off from what exactly?” I wondered aloud, knowing he had plenty of money of his own.

“Their love and support,” he answered.

“For my father, black was out of the question,” said my olive-skinned Persian friend with a wave of her hand, as if she were trying to push away the very idea of it.

Another friend of mixed Indian and German descent said, “I’m a half-breed, so my parents were fine with any race, but they preferred — really told me — not to marry an American.”

“While you were being raised in America?” I said, aghast.

She giggled at the ridiculousness of the statement, but nodded her head yes nonetheless.

Farr writes that her own Irish-Italian parents once forbade her from dating anyone black or Puerto Rican, though they eventually changed their position. She writes that she was less shocked by her friends' admissions of their parents' dating rules than by "their willingness to abide by them."

Yet what Farr describes is next-door common, even in a polyglot place like Southern California. I'm looking forward to reading the book - and I'd like to hear from readers.

What sorts of conversations took place in your household regarding interracial relationships? If there were rules and restrictions imposed, how did they play out in real life?