Racism in Paradise: Interracial marriages still stir prejudice among many Canadians

Published: October 21, 2013
When Ashley and Raj Brar were married, they had two ceremonies: a white-dress wedding reflecting Ashley’s Irish, Scottish and Canadian heritage, and a traditional Indian ceremony to recognize Raj’s Indo-Canadian background.

When Ashley and Raj Brar were married, they had two ceremonies: a white-dress wedding reflecting Ashley’s Irish, Scottish and Canadian heritage, and a traditional Indian ceremony to recognize Raj’s Indo-Canadian background. (Mark van Manen/PNG)

CHERYL CHAN
THE PROVINCE

Raj and Ashley Brar’s love story is an ordinary tale, at least in Metro Vancouver.

He’s a high school teacher, she’s a student nurse. They met through friends, drawn together by their love of history and a common Christian faith. They dated for two years, got married in August, and honeymooned in Hawaii.

For the most part, their different skin colours — he’s brown, she’s white — haven’t mattered. Certainly not to them, their friends, or their families, not anymore anyway.

Interracial couples like the Brars are a fast-growing demographic in Canada. Statistics Canada says mixed-race unions grew a dramatic 33 per cent between 2001 and 2006 — more than five times the growth of all couples, due, in part, to the growing number of visible minorities in Canada.

And when it comes to love, Vancouver is the most colour-blind city of all.

In Metro Vancouver 8.5 per cent of couples are in mixed unions — more than double the national figure of 3.9 per cent. Couples like Ashley and Raj have become so common hardly anyone bats an eye when they walk down the street hand in hand.

But it wasn’t all smooth sailing.

Raj’s dad, who immigrated to Canada from India 25 years ago, had always expected his eldest child and only son to marry an Indo-Canadian girl. When Raj told his parents he was dating a white girl, he was greeted with an ominous silence.

“It was a couple days of a really tense household,” recalls Raj. “They didn’t want to acknowledge it.”

Raj’s mom wasn’t as against the relationship, but “she was torn between two worlds,” says Raj. “She wanted to defend her husband, but also support her son.”

The disapproval stemmed largely from fear. They were worried Ashley, a fourth-generation Canadian with Irish and Scottish roots who did not speak Punjabi, was going to take Raj away from them. Decades ago, Raj’s aunt had married a Caucasian man, and was disowned. Raj’s parents did not want the same issue to tear their family apart.

Raj and Ashley’s story, luckily, has a happier ending. When Raj’s parents realized their son wasn’t going to budge, they made the first tentative steps to get to know Ashley. Within months, they gave the couple their blessing.

“Everyone loves her,” says Raj, 28, holding hands with Ashley at a Surrey coffee shop a few days after their honeymoon.

“And I love them,” says Ashley, 30. “It wasn’t a problem at all.”

Raj and Ashley were married in August in a dual ceremony: A traditional Indian wedding at a Sikh gurdwara to appease Raj’s parents and a Christian ceremony at a White Rock church, where their two worlds came together.

The bride wore a white dress, the groom a black sherwani; the bridesmaids all wore saris. The menu included butter chicken and pakoras. Their traditional tiered cake was decorated in an intricate mehndi pattern.

Their emcees entertained their 400 guests — “massive for a western wedding, small for an Indian wedding” — in both English and Punjabi.

University of B.C. sociologist Wendy Roth says the growing number of mixed-race unions indicates a steady erosion of social and racial barriers between different groups. After all, what blurs racial lines more than sex and marriage?

“Marriage is a function of who you meet,” say Roth. “Intermarriages are generally seen as an indication of social distance between groups. The more intermarriages there are, the less social distance between groups.”

Interracial relationships can present challenges that couples from the same backgrounds do not face. Things can get messy when you throw different cultures, values, and religions into the mix.

Francois Vanasse organizes a meet-up group for mixed-race couples in Vancouver. He’s heard about a variety of issues that range from the lighthearted, such as what’s for dinner, to more serious matters, such as living with the in-laws.

“Family can be an issue,” says Vanasse, who met his wife Li Cheng in Shanghai in the mid-’90s. “Canadians tend to have smaller families, while a Chinese family is much more extended.”

Currently, his mother-in-law is living with them, he notes. “That’s not something that would happen in a Canadian family.”

Vanasse says he wasn’t looking for an interracial relationship; he was simply looking for someone to connect with, “whether she comes from Mars it doesn’t matter.”

Being half of a mixed couple gives him new perspectives and richer insights.

“It’s a connection to another way of thinking and feeling things. It gives you a different angle on life and the world,” he says.

Despite the rapid increase of mixed unions in Canada, intermarriages are still more likely to occur among certain segments of the population.

“It is only certain people — young, highly-educated and in urban centres — that tend to intermarry,” says Roth. “It does not mean there are no racial issues in the world anymore, only that among certain parts of our society, relations are getting better.”

Ken Sim, 42, marvels at how times have changed.

He and his wife Teena Gupta live in a 1921 Kerrisdale home with a land title that stipulated the property cannot be transferrred to “Negroes or Orientals.”

The couple got looks when they started dating in 1994. But as Vancouver became more multicultural, the stares stopped. Today the couple and their four boys blend right in.

Sim also saw attitudes change in his own family. Sim says his dad would have preferred his kids marry another Chinese, but ended up with two Caucasian sons-in-law, a Thai daughter-in-law, and Gupta, who is Indo-Canadian.

“He shouldn’t have come to Canada,” laughs Sim.

Sim recalls when he was in Grade 8, he had a good friend named Harmeet. His dad told him he shouldn’t play with brown people.

Fast forward decades later, Sim married Gupta, and “my dad would go over to my in-laws and wouldn’t even tell us. They’d just hang out all the time.

“He danced bhangra at our wedding,” he adds.

Sim says there used to be a lot less diversity in Vancouver, which allowed stereotypes and preconceived notions to fester.

“As time goes on and the world gets really small, I see it as people not talking so much about race and nation states but more about groups,” says Sim, co-founder of Nurse Next Door.

He says he has more in common with someone who is an entrepreneur and a dad rather than a random person who lives next door to him and happens to be Chinese.

With their four kids, who they affectionately call “Chindus,” short for Chinese and Hindus, “it’s really cool,” says Sim. “They don’t see colour at all because we don’t talk about it.”

chchan@theprovince.com

twitter.com/cherylchan


Tags: , , , , , , ,





Featured

prakash2

Indian news channel hires country’s first transgender anchor

VANCOUVER DESI A 31-year-old transgender woman in India has become the country’s first-ever transgender person to read the news on live television, according to the…
Continue Reading »

notinmyname1

Young Muslims in Britain speak out against ISIS with social media campaign

VANCOUVER DESI Muslims in Britain are speaking out against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) with a social media campaign to raise awareness…
Continue Reading »

ER_-_BIBI_ESCORT_2_218008286

Deported Saskatoon woman in hiding in Pakistan, friend says

CHARLES HAMILTON and EVAN RADFORD POSTMEDIA NEWS and THE CANADIAN PRESS Jamila Bibi, the refugee claimant deported this week from Saskatoon, is now in hiding in Pakistan,…
Continue Reading »

LOCAL NEWS

Maternal health in, climate change out: A look at Canada’s changing UN speeches

By Alexander Panetta THE CANADIAN PRESS UNITED NATIONS — A scan of Canadian speeches at the United Nations General Assembly reveals a shift in priorities…
Continue Reading »

ER_-_BIBI_ESCORT_2_218008286

Deported Saskatoon woman in hiding in Pakistan, friend says

CHARLES HAMILTON and EVAN RADFORD POSTMEDIA NEWS and THE CANADIAN PRESS Jamila Bibi, the refugee claimant deported this week from Saskatoon, is now in hiding in Pakistan,…
Continue Reading »

10223486

Back-to-school excitement finally comes for a half-million B.C. students

CHERYL CHAN VANCOUVER DESI For Kassidy Ryan, the first day of school couldn’t come soon enough. Kassidy is one of about a half-million B.C. students…
Continue Reading »

Don't Miss...

Larissa Cahute

Video: Vancouver Desi reporter gets a ‘desi’ makeover

VANCOUVER DESI Vancouver Desi reporter Larissa Cahute gets a taste of the hectic life backstage at Vancouver Fashion Week as she gets done up in…
Continue Reading »

banned-desi

Surrey’s Punjabi radio stations facing CRTC ban

TERESA VERENCA SURREY NOW SURREY — Two radio stations operating out of Surrey could be slapped with mandatory cease-and-desist orders come October. According to the…
Continue Reading »

DEPORTED-PAKISTAN

Rally held in Saskatoon in support of 65-year-old woman deported to Pakistan

THE CANADIAN PRESS SASKATOON — Supporters of a 65-year-old woman who was deported to her native Pakistan earlier this week have held a rally at…
Continue Reading »

Designers-entertainment

Fashion over the years in Bollywood

IMROZ MAUR VANCOUVER DESI Bollywood and Fashion go hand in hand; there is no Bollywood without fashion and there is no fashion without Bollywood. They…
Continue Reading »

Little India

Death of a neighbourhood? Little India’s Punjabi Market struggles to survive

GORDON MCINTYRE VANCOUVER DESI When Simran and Hardeep Virk met 20 years ago at Langara College, they’d go to All India Sweets & Restaurant for…
Continue Reading »


Bollywood Latest

Indian film star Vivek Oberoi walks with his wife Priyanka Alva Oberoi on the green carpet as they arrive for 15th annual International Indian Film Awards Saturday, April 26, 2014, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Why did Vivek Oberoi refuse a role on American series Homeland?

HINDUSTAN TIMES While Bollywood actors often jump at the opportunity to collaborate on international projects, Vivek Oberoi wasn’t quite so fortunate. Although the actor was…
Continue Reading »

Indian actress Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is one of the members in Sanjay Gupta's upcoming star-studded movie Jazbaa. Aishwarya poses here at the amfAR 21st Annual Cinema Against AIDS during the 67th Cannes Film Festival in southern Franc on May 22, 2014. ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images

Sanjay Gupta to add more stars to upcoming Bollywood film Jazbaa’s cast

IANS Mumbai  – Filmmaker Sanjay Gupta is excited about the way his next project Jazbaa, starring Aishwarya Rai, Irrfan Khan and Anupam Kher, is shaping…
Continue Reading »

Indian Bollywood film actress Priyanka Chopra poses during a promotional event of the Tata Salt 'Maine Desh ka Namak Khaya Hai' campaign, which features the story of boxer Mary Kom, and the promotion of the film 'Mary Kom' in Mumbai on September 10, 2014. AFP PHOTOSTR/AFP/Getty Images

Priyanka Chopra accepts Hrithik Roshan’s dare, performs handstand in heels

IANS Mumbai — Priyanka Chopra accepted and performed a handstand with a push up – a dare thrown at her by Hrithik Roshan. “The only…
Continue Reading »