Here is my speech from the culture event in Elk River.
“Ethnically, I am of European descent, mostly Scandinavian with a little German and Irish thrown in. Even though the last of my ancestors immigrated to the US in the late 1880’s, I still prefer to quote the percentages of my heritage rather than simply saying “I’m American.” I was raised on a large farm in central Minnesota, an expansion of the farmstead my great-grandparents purchased in 1886 after arriving from Sweden.
With so many generations here in the United States, it is hard for me to know which of our family traditions have to do with our ethnic heritage and which are just “the way we do things.” There are obvious connectors to the past like the Swedish meatballs, lefse, and kroom kaka served at Christmas dinner when I was a child. Now as my grandmother enters her 100th year of life and can no longer cook on her own, the lefse comes from the super market, always purchased as an afterthought, and the kroom kaka has disappeared altogether.
In 2001, in the spirit of my Norwegian grandmother who was brave enough to marry a Swede, I started a bicultural relationship of my own. My husband is from Mexico. Our relationship started like every other one. The awkward getting to know you questions, speaking about our childhood, learning each other’s likes and dislikes. There were obstacles we expected to encounter such as occasional language barriers, battling our personal expectations of what a “Mexican” and an “American” act like, and the awkwardness we would each feel around each others friends and family.
Then there were the unexpected things. The way servers in restaurants seemed to always ask me for both of our orders, only glancing briefly at him, assuming he spoke little English. There were the not so subtle stares as we held hands going through the mall. The most shocking thing for me was the intense and completely brazen curiosity of almost every person who found out my boyfriend (and later, my husband) was from Mexico. Once I mentioned that fact, the very next question out of 2/3s of people was “Is he illegal?”
The first time someone asked me that I could not stop my mouth from dropping wide open in shock. Each time I was asked that, the person would look at me expectantly not realizing how completely offensive and hurtful that question and assumption are to both me and my husband. To us, it feels like an intrusion into our deepest personal lives and a dismissal of our love. For my husband, it makes him feel like people wanted to know his status so they could judge him before even knowing what kind of person he is. To me, it felt like they were telling me I was not worthy of love, just a means to an end for this man from Mexico. He did not want me to visit him at work because his American and Latino co-workers would immediately start harassing him about having an American wife and ask “why” we got married. I still do not understand why anyone would assume that just because he is from Mexico and I am from the United States that our motive for marriage would be anything other than love, just like every other couple who makes the commitment.
I never answered the question of his immigration status. Not once. Once I was able to contain my shocked expression, I would simply look at the individual and say “I’ve never asked. Should that be important?”
We have been married for three years now and are over most of the cultural hurdles. We are both eager and open to new experiences and patient with each other, which I believe are the keys to success in a cross-cultural relationship. Our different upbringings in small towns 2500 miles apart shaped who we were when we met. Now our understanding, frequent compromises and desire to evenly balance both our cultures into one family will shape who we will be together.”