Back in 2006, when my Filipino wife and I first met online, it didn’t seem like we were doing anything particularly innovative. We knew several couples who had previously followed the same path. And most of those around us were welcoming and kind.
Then, after I published an account of our courtship and marriage in a well-read West Coast magazine, the angry letters started pouring in. Their gist: that she was a submissive Asian woman looking for money and a green card while I was a privileged white man desirous only of passionate sex and a trophy wife.
“If I were him, I’d sleep with one eye open,” a wary reader ominously warned. Why? Because, the reader continued, “His new little honey may not think this ‘arrangement’ is so wonderful.”
For a time the story went viral on blogs, vlogs and at least one LA-area TV show. Print publications joined the fray. I was invited to read my article for a popular California Public Radio program and an account on Kami, one of the Philippines’ leading news sites, garnered over 1.5 million views. Then the producers of a weekly GMA7 drama series contacted us about re-enacting our story for what they promised would be a highly touted episode.
That show never materialized, but clearly our little love saga had sparked a raging binational debate: were interracial, cross-cultural relationships like ours matters of mere convenience, or could they actually be real?
“Oh my God,” one woman lamented, “I wouldn’t let that shriveled thing near me for any amount of money.”
But then some supportive voices chimed in. “Who are any of you,” one wondered, “to judge the happiness or motivation of two people you don’t know? Relationships are hard and it’s great if [they] can make it work.”
Here’s how I handled the matter in a 2015 memoir called Nazis & Nudists. “Through it all,” I reported, “Ivy maintained an attitude of stoicism; after reading a few letters, she simply stopped. ‘Do any of these people know us?’ she asked rhetorically, responding to my expressions of concern. ‘Do they have our address? Will they come to our door?’ Then why, she wondered, should she deign to be bothered?
“I, on the other hand, read every word and felt chastened. But I also felt something else: surprise and disappointment at the ferocity of the assault. For ours, in theory, is a tolerant and open society, is it not? I couldn’t imagine anyone publicly expressing this kind of outrage… Yet Ivy and I, it seemed, were fair game. Obviously there were some major gaps in the texture of our tolerance.”
Boy, how times have changed.
A few months ago, I saw a column in the Los Angeles Times proposing an “innovative” solution to the so-called identity politics that divides America; interracial marriage. “Relationships and marriages between people from different racial or religious communities,” wrote Justin Gest, an associate professor at George Mason University, “blur the boundaries that otherwise separate diverse societies [foiling] political campaigns and policies that aim to divide.” His radical suggestion: “Build relationships with people different from you.”
Apparently, that idea isn’t as new as it sounds; my home state of California, it turns out, pioneered the concept of intermarriage in a 1948 state Supreme Court decision striking down laws prohibiting matrimony between white people and those then considered racial minorities. The case predated by almost 20 summers, the US Supreme Court’s Loving vs. Virginia decision legalizing interracial marriage nationwide.
And heck, it happened the year before I was born. Maybe that’s why I felt so empowered, decades later, to marry the love of my life. It’s never much bothered us that several shades of color separate the textures of our skin. Nor does it bother our children, whose lovely complexions now fill those intervening voids. For we are family, and our laughter and tears taste the same. And that, we believe, is what God and nature always intended.
(David Haldane’s latest book, “A Tooth in My Popsicle and Other Ebullient Essays on Becoming Filipino,” is due out in January. A former staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, where he helped write two Pulitzer Prize-winning stories, Haldane is an award-winning journalist, author and radio broadcaster with homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Northern Mindanao, Philippines. This column appears weekly in the Mindanao Gold Star Daily.)