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

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

Riders were left stranded after Expo and Millennium lines of the SkyTrain stopped running in Vancouver on Monday. Arlen Redekop/PNG

Expo and Millennium SkyTrain lines restart after 4.5 hour delay

VANCOUVER DESI UPDATE (5:05 p.m.): The Expo Line has been fixed and crews are conducting a safety sweep. The line is expected to open in segments…
Continue Reading »

A hangman's gallows sits idle at the Benghazi Central Prison on March 1, 2011 on the outskirts of Benghazi, Libya. Inmates broke free of the prison during the uprising a week ago in the city. John Moore/Getty Images

Indian state offers fat pay raise in attempt to attract applicants to jail hangman job

RAMESH BABU HINDUSTAN TIMES The Indian state of Kerala is offering a pay raise worth thousands of dollars in an attempt to attract more men…
Continue Reading »

Ukrainian emergency workers carry a stretcher with a victim's body in a bag through a field at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 near the village of Hrabove, eastern Ukraine, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine Monday, July 21, 2014. AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky

Vancouver’s Malaysian Consulate General holding condolence signing for victims of downed Malaysian Airliner MH17

VANCOUVER DESI The Malaysian Consulate General in Vancouver is holding a condolence signing Monday through Wednesday for the victims and families of those who perished…
Continue Reading »

LOCAL NEWS

Riders were left stranded after Expo and Millennium lines of the SkyTrain stopped running in Vancouver on Monday. Arlen Redekop/PNG

Expo and Millennium SkyTrain lines restart after 4.5 hour delay

VANCOUVER DESI UPDATE (5:05 p.m.): The Expo Line has been fixed and crews are conducting a safety sweep. The line is expected to open in segments…
Continue Reading »

Ukrainian emergency workers carry a stretcher with a victim's body in a bag through a field at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 near the village of Hrabove, eastern Ukraine, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine Monday, July 21, 2014. AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky

Vancouver’s Malaysian Consulate General holding condolence signing for victims of downed Malaysian Airliner MH17

VANCOUVER DESI The Malaysian Consulate General in Vancouver is holding a condolence signing Monday through Wednesday for the victims and families of those who perished…
Continue Reading »

Narinder Kaur Kalsi, who has been on life support, since a domestic dispute at her Surrey home last week has died. Kalsi was pronounced dead just before 4:30 p.m. Sunday, said police. Her husband Beldev Singh Kalsi was arrested and charged in connection to her death. — Facebook Photo.

Surrey temple president charged with murder as wife dies in hospital after alleged domestic assault

CHERYL CHAN  VANCOUVER DESI The charge against a former Surrey temple president has again been upgraded after his wife, who suffered severe injuries in an…
Continue Reading »

Don't Miss...

Shadab (L) and Sanjana's relationship has finally been accepted by their families and they will be  getting married soon. Gagan Nayar/Hindustan Times Photo

Man in India to marry transgendered woman with both families’ blessings

VANCOUVER DESI After a nine-year relationship filled with “emotional turmoil,” a gay man in India has finally been accepted by his family and allowed to…
Continue Reading »

File photo of a worker in a jungle in Quintana Roo State, Mexico. A baby girl was found abandoned in a jungle in India. Pedro PARDO/AFP/Getty Images

Abandoned eight-month-old in India makes incredible survival in remote jungle area

CEN NEWS A group of Indian lumberjacks were shocked to find a baby girl in a remote jungle area after she had apparently been abandoned…
Continue Reading »

A screen grab of Google Maps shows the northern Indian city of Bareilly, in which Bargauna village is located, where a mother was burnt alive when she confronted burglars in her home. Screengrab/Google Maps

Mom in India burnt alive by burglars in front of five-year-old daughter

CEN NEWS Indian woman Raaka Tamasi, 30, who apparently disturbed burglars that had broken into her house in the village of Bargauna in the northern…
Continue Reading »

courtroom drama

A different kind of courtroom drama: Woman gives birth to baby girl in witness room

IANS London – A heavily-pregnant woman gave birth to a baby girl in a court in Britain after going into labour in the witness room,…
Continue Reading »

Desi stylist and wedding planner

Vancouver woman aghast when only one man among 100 shoppers at Metrotown tried to help when her purse was stolen

SUSAN LAZARUK VANCOUVER DESI Is chivalry dead? A woman whose purse was snatched from the busy food court at Metrotown was dismayed that none of…
Continue Reading »


Bollywood Latest

basu

Bollywood stars outshine fashion at India Couture Week 2014 (w/ gallery)

NIVEDITA IANS New Delhi  – Design esthetics and creativity may have impressed fashion patrons at the just concluded Shree Raj Mahal Jewellers India Couture Week…
Continue Reading »

JEAN CHRISTOPHE MAGNENET/AFP/Getty Images

Sonam Kapoor unveils Khoobsurat trailer (w/ video)

IANS Mumbai — Actress Sonam Kapoor Monday unveiled the trailer of her upcoming film Khoobsurat, and said the film’s producer and director have “exposed me…
Continue Reading »

Bollywood actor and activist

Aamir Khan’s daughter organizes charity celebrity football match

IANS Mumbai  – Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan’s daughter Ira organized a celebrity football match to raise funds for an animal welfare shelter. The charity match…
Continue Reading »