What does it feel like to be Indian-born, living abroad and marry someone outside your race?

Answer by Dolly Singh:

Thank you for the A2A.

It's the toughest decision I've made in my whole life – so I'm nervous about attempting an answer as I'm not quite sure what I should or shouldn't say.   

It's such a divisive question and people on each side of the fence are ideological in their viewpoints, myself included. 

I must also say, there are serious consequences in this decision for anyone; and I was able to make my choice and can share my story in the hope that it helps someone else. . .  But if you currently live in India this decision could impact the safety of your life and the life of your love – so this post should not be license for you to run off with someone in a moment of passion and rebellion.

So with that said – here goes nothing.

My parents moved me to the United States from India in 1983, when I was 4.5 years old. 

My family is from Punjab, where we have 300+ years of a rich history tied to culture, religion and bloodlines.  They were raised to see their own kind as the best, and see everyone else on a range of less than.

It's not that they wanted to be terrible people; it's just what was passed down to them and repeated to them and all they ever knew. 

They didn't hate or fear anyone else, but they didn't want to interact with them unnecessarily. They just wanted to stick to their own kind and didn't see anything wrong with that.

On some level it's a survival mechanism – a people or culture that doesn't 'stick to its own' is at risk of assimilating and disappearing – so I do try and understand the evolution and prevalence of this thinking.

My parents were 29 when they arrived in the states, so the entirety of their formative years were spent in a universe where color and caste defined everything about you. 

Our caste comes from the top of the totem pole which happens to be more 'light skinned'.  In the Indian caste system you basically go down a bracket by each shade darker your skin color gets. So light is good- dark is bad; this is the only universe they ever knew.

When we arrived in the States it was culture shock for everyone.  They had never seen such a diverse nation (we had moved to the Bay Area of Northern California), didn't yet speak the language and were just here on the faith that they allowing their children access to the best educational institutions in the world was the best thing they could do for their family.

We all started to adjust over the next few months and years; me probably easiest as I picked up English in about 2 weeks.  The brain is so primed to learn language at that age; and with full immersion it set up ideal conditions for me to learn quickly and start to acclimate.

My parents took longer to catch up; my mom picked up enough English to get by by watching PBS and taking classes at night while working as a seamstress during the days.

My Dad was able to get a job in one of the many semi conductor factories in the area, a hands on trade that made it easier to get by without mastering the English language.

My parents had left a high class life in India for a working class life in the US, but we had lots of extended family and a strong community around us.

My father's sister had preceeded us to the US and was able to petition for my Dad after having been in the states for 7 years.  Many other families had done the same so there was a vibrant and growing community of Punjabi immigrants to Northern California during these years.

Things were pretty normal for most of elementary school, with the occasional bullying episodes over my Dad's turban.  But all in all life was good.

When middle school arrived I was able to get my old fashioned Indian parents to be progressive enough to allow me to play sports.

I played volleyball, softball and basketball; but basketball was by far my favorite.  From 6th grade to12th grade, I played every day at the parks around my neighborhood.

My neighborhood was a lower middle class area called, "Seven Trees" for the apple orchards that used to be on that same land 20 years prior.   It was comprised of about 30% African Americans, 30% Hispanic or Latin Americans, 20% Asian Americans and 20% others.

During those years between age 12-17; I would get home from school, finish my homework, make sure my brother and sister were done with their homework, and then grab my ball and head down the 8 blocks to the closest basketball court.

Street ball isn't usually played by girls; and it certainly isn't usually played by young, super skinny Indian girls.

The first few weeks I went down to that park, I didn't have the guts to ask to play.  I would shoot on one side of the court when the action was on the other side of the court or I'd just dribble around while watching the games being played.

One day someone else had brought their younger kids with them and they were short a player and asked me if I wanted to play.  That was the the question I had spent the last few weeks waiting to hear.

I quickly became a regular at the court every evening. Over those years I grew really close to the other regulars who came to this court; most of the players that visited these courts were 15-25 almost entirely male, and predominantly African American.

At the time I didn't think about their skin color; they were just my friends and guys who made me a way better basketball player.

When I turned 15 and had my first crush, it was on a 16 year old boy from my neighborhood who I had been playing bball with for a year or so – that young man happened to be African American.  We never actually dated, or even kissed – I just remember a tingle in my chest every time I we had our quick hugs for hello and goodbye. 

I knew my parents would be mortified if they knew what I was feeling but I couldn't really help what my hormones were doing.

I just found myself much more attracted to dark skin and muscular frames.

In the Indian culture you are not supposed to date, hug, kiss or obviously have sex until after you are married. 

And you're not supposed to get married when you love someone and want to hug and kiss them, but rather you get married when it is deemed appropriate and beneficial by your parents and to someone who is a total stranger and may be totally unattractive to you.

I clearly knew I wasn't supposed to 'date' and I knew I was definitely not supposed to date outside my race – because apparently I was supposed to save myself for some random future stranger. . . but I couldn't get myself really to buy into this model of life.

Over the next year – as I matured and learned more about the world; I began to see a lot wrong with the worldview my parents has been brought up in.

It wasn't just the fact that they were racist and didn't know it; it's also that the practice of arranged marriage itself rings so loud with gender inequality.

So in a short period of time I realized- my parents and my culture were both racist and sexist.

It wasn't with malice – but rather through default; but it was wrong nonetheless and I knew it in my heart.

I also was starting to get to know myself more and more during this time; and as it was turning out I am the ultimate black sheep.

I swim against the current every time; I don't like to be told what to do, I don't tend to back down, and I am about as far from submissive as one could get.

The problem however, is that being submissive is a highly desirable attribute in Indian women- perhaps more than desirable it is almost a requisite trait in order to try and have a tension free life.

Culturally – Indian women are taught to serve and not speak – so it was becoming clear to me by this point I was going to be an epic failure at being a good Indian daughter.

The day after I graduated high school, when I was 17 years old, at 1:06am, I jumped out my bedroom window in the dark of night with $700 I had saved from my weekend job at the mall, a backpack full of clothes and nothing else. 

I left my parents a note telling them I was sorry, but I couldn't and didn't want to be who they wanted me to be – and that I was leaving to find God's plan for me.

I spent the night in a friends van and in the morning she took me to another friends house where I stayed for the next two weeks.

I cried for 10 days straight; I sobbed until my skin was dehydrated and my lips were bleeding, and I slept only in small fits of exhaustion.

I was crying less for myself and more for the pain I knew my parents and sibling were feeling at those same moments in time – I knew I had broken the hearts of the people who had prayed for and cherished my life more than anyone else in the world. 

But I knew in my heart that I couldn't turn back; I wasn't cut out to be someone's good Indian wife and that was the only option in my parents' universe.

I moved 6 hours away and spent the next 5 years putting myself through college; I contacted my parents after about 6 months once I had turned 18 had pulled together a enough stability to get a small apartment. 

They were crushed and angry but knew legally they couldn't force me to come back. 

They also didn't really understand what or why I was so terrified of what they saw as normal.  I told them I didn't think I could just be happy with a typical Indian life- but they didn't really understand what that meant.

At one point my once favorite Uncle in India had told them they should kill me to prevent me from setting a bad example for my younger siblings.

Thankfully for me, they loved me more than they probably wanted to at the time and resigned into some level of acceptance as time wore on.

Even during these years as we worked to rebuild a relationship of some sort while I continued to demand my independence I never dated anyone in front of them.

In my last year of college I started dating the man who is now my husband,  I fell in love with him within a the first few months we were together and I was pregnant 6 months into the relationship.

I had been brave enough to leave my parents, but I had never been brave enough to tell them I wanted to marry or date outside my race – and now I had no choice as my first child was coming and I was with the man of my dreams and I was determined to marry him.

So, at 22, 5 years since that terrified 17 year old jumped out her bedroom window, I found myself terrified again.

I had to break my parents' hearts for the second time; I had to drag their names and reputation through the twisted mud of the Indian community – again.

I flew to my parents home, told my mom I was pregnant and going to get married.

She flipped out.

I flew home.

Over the next two months my mom collected herself and worked with a couple other relatives in my family to speak with my dad and to help arrange an Indian wedding ceremony for me and my very non Indian husband.

They decided their daughter meant more to them than the reputation they have with people who love to gossip about everyone anyway.

I'm sure it wasn't easy for them; but they decided they didn't want to lose me and I am am very thankful to them for that. 

In the 13 years since, time has healed my family; my husband is such an overwhelmingly nice man that my parents like him much more than they like me. 

He is far more kind and patient and warm than I will ever be – and they now know the human being under the skin and found that they really adore that human being.

I love my husband and family dearly; and I love my country for making this colorful life possible.  I know my story isn't possible in any other nation.

I love my parents for finding the acceptance and growth in their hearts to allow me to be me.

My choices were not easy, but I am so thankful to God for giving me the courage to make them.

They allowed me to help create some of the cutest kids ever šŸ™‚

Addendum: Thanks to everyone for the great support and comments on this answer.  

Really refreshing to hear so much support from many in the Indian community; it's very nice to see that progress is indeed afoot.

A couple comments have asked questions about the kiddos so I thought I'd share a drawing I found in my oldest son's backpack when he came home from school a year or so ago.

I think they have had no trouble reconciling their two families/cultures at all.


What does it feel like to be Indian-born, living abroad and marry someone outside your race?


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