Love in a time of diversity

In the maze of Santa Monica College, students of different cultures and ethnicities attend class, cram at the library and dine in the cafeteria. Inevitably, a glance, a stare or an exchange of words will signal a deep attraction between two people who may be of different ethnic backgrounds.

Nationwide, interracial relationships are gaining steam, and the heart is overthrowing borderlines everywhere. The Pew Research Center reported in 2012, that interracial marriages in the United States have risen to about 48 million. California is first on the list of states with the highest percentage.

The mingling of backgrounds has become so common that it can be difficult to find an interracial couple on campus made up solely of two races.

Michael Sepulveda, half Guatemalan and half Caucasian, and Annel Flores, fully Mexican, enter the public library with the air of a couple appearing to be two close friends.

In their case, language and tradition expose the small differences in backgrounds.

“I’m pretty good at understanding Spanish, but speaking the language is my challenge,” says Sepulveda. “When I speak to her grandma or uncles, it gets challenging.”

“His family is more open to other things, but for mine, they would prefer to stay within Hispanic culture,” says Flores. “He would be OK with it, but not as comfortable as with a Hispanic.”

Flores says that other factors are more important than race when choosing a partner, such as, “comfort in being able to tell them whatever you can.”

Popular culture has been exploring the idea of interracial couples for years, dating back to the 1960s when the Oscar-nominated movie “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” touched on the then-tricky topic of an African American man being engaged to a white woman. Today, films like “Our Family Wedding” have presented — in albeit comedic ways — the issue of African Americans marrying Hispanics.

Splashed over tabloid covers, interracial celebrity couples like Kanye West and Kim Kardashian are doing their part to blur ethnic barriers and shift perceptions.

Walberto Lozano, half Mexican and half Salvadorian, says he was fooled by his girlfriend of three years, Megan Garcia, because of her porcelain skin.

“When I met her, I didn’t know she was part Mexican,” says Lozano, of his half Mexican and half German girlfriend. “I thought she’s white.”

For Garcia’s parents, race did not matter. What mattered was a background check on Lozano to make sure he had a clean history.

But for others who have found their soulmate in someone from a different culture, the experience also revealed the deep biases still ingrained in some small minds.

SMC film professor Salvador Carrasco is Mexican, and his wife Andrea is half British and half Swiss. The year was 1988 when their relationship developed under hostile eyes at the Dakota building in New York.

“As soon as her landlady found out that she was dating a Mexican, she gave Andrea an ultimatum – the room in one of the most coveted Central Park West addresses, or the Mexican,” says Carrasco.

“Before sending her to hell, Andrea gave her the opportunity to meet me, which would have probably dispelled her biases, but the landlady flatly refused,” he says. “She wasn’t interested in meeting me, since all Latino men were the same.”

James Stramel, who teaches a class on sexual ethics at SMC, says that interracial dating is a fact.

“It’s a good thing that it’s becoming more socially acceptable,” says Stramel. “It shows people are becoming less concerned about race. It certainly doesn’t raise any moral problems.”

Stramel emphasizes the effect interracial relationships will have on society.

“It will have an increasing momentum,” he says. “As more couples start to get married, the more interracial children they produce, the more racial boundaries are overcome and it will become less of an issue over time.”

This reality can be seen even today in the highest office of the nation, the White House. President Barack Obama is half Kenyan and half Anglo-American.

For singles still waiting to find that special someone, race comes second to other concerns.

“Make sure you have a full background check on the guy,” says Donna Emlin, a Persian student at SMC. “Make sure he’s mentally stable.”

For Aaron Jacobson, race does not matter at all when looking for a girlfriend. He says that for him, personality trumps all other considerations.

The rise in interracial dating and the breaking down of barriers comes down to a very graceful, precise truth, says Stramel.

“The reality of the experience of love trumps all of these other characteristics or categories that over the years various societies have loaded up with meaning – skin color, national origin, religion,” he says. “But what about the reality of their love as they experience it? Isn’t that more important than dogma or ideology?”

Alci RengifoComment