I met Tina through a fantastic "Masala" group she runs on Facebook, and she also recently started her own blog - My Masala Life - where she writes about her intercultural life.
My name is Tina. I am an American woman of European descent (Portuguese/Croatian), married to a Punjabi Sikh man. I am from Northern California. I went to college in Southern California, which is where I met my husband. My husband was born and raised in Chandigarh, Punjab, in India. We now live in Sacramento, California, and we have a four year old daughter named Nasreen.
Three words that describe you...
Talkative, Passionate, Sweet
Favorite childhood memory...
We lived on a farm so my favorite childhood memories were times my siblings and I spent around our creek. We would spend hours in the summer just pretending up amazing worlds, and playing games. I can never recreate that world as an adult - it was such a magical time.
Where/how do you feel most inspired?
I feel very inspired in nature. I love the ocean and I also love being in a wooded forest. My imagination takes flight in these places.
Where/how did you meet your spouse?
I met my husband in 2007, when we were both attending California State University Northridge. He was starting his Master’s Degree in Engineering and I was in the middle of my Bachelor’s degree in Political Science. We also worked together for the police department as student assistants. I remember the first time I was stationed with him. We were sitting at our post checking-in guests into the dorms. I was playing music from my laptop. He was (and still is) a quiet guy and I am super talkative. That night I kept on talking to him and asking him all kinds of questions. I found the fact that he was Indian interesting - I knew next to nothing about his culture. I thought he was cute, sweet and sincere. We became work friends, even though I always really liked him more than that. I learned later that he thought that I was dating my male roommate (which is understandable, because we spent every day together). GC did not know that my male roommate was gay!!!
One day in 2009, GC came over to my apartment to attend a birthday party for my roommate. I remember he was dressed very nicely which was really refreshing because everyone else was doing the college bum look! I kept watching from a distance, hoping that he would come and talk to me. Around midnight he stated that he was going to leave because he had work in the morning - the poor guy worked 75 hours a week to pay the double tuition for international students. I was so sad he was leaving...my hope of getting beyond the friend zone was fading away!!! My roommate decided he was going to force him to stay so he turned all the clocks back three hours hoping to fool him! GC was adamant that he had to leave, so my roommate forced him into a chair. He pulled me over and said “Tina is going to give you a shoulder massage”. I was known for my shoulder massages, but this seemed so forward!! As soon as I touched him it was like electricity. He really enjoyed the massage, but he kept defending himself to my roommate, who he thought that I was dating! GC was telling my roommate over and over again that he was not trying to flirt with his girlfriend (me). Finally my roommate said “dude, we are not dating...I don’t even like GIRLS!” GC was so confused, and then finally understood that my roommate was gay and that we weren't dating. Then he immediately turned around and said “what are you doing tomorrow”? He asked me on an official date - right then and there! And that's how it all began...
How long have you been together?
We have been together for five years.
What qualities do you admire in your spouse?
I love how intelligent he is. He really is a bright man and it’s the thing I am most attracted to. I also love how much he cares about his family. His family comes first in his life above all other things.
Favorite memory together as a couple...
My favorite memory as a couple is really quite simple. We had been dating for a few weeks and we went to a park with a picnic. I brought cards and mancala (a board game). We just sat there, we enjoyed nature and playing games. We were just so comfortable with each other and I knew he was the one. We didn’t need fancy trips or restaurants, we were just happy with each other.
What did you know about your spouse's culture prior to your relationship?
VERY LITTLE!!! I knew the politics of India because of my Political Science degree, but honestly I knew very little about the culture. What I did know...had nothing to with his region of India. Sikh Indians are quite different then Hindu Indians, which is what my high school culture class covered.
How did you tell your friends/family about your intercultural relationship?
I was never shy about telling anyone about our relationship. GC was my first boyfriend. So when I put a picture of my husband and I together on Facebook, everyone knew it was serious.
How has your relationship enlightened your life? How has it changed you & your outlook on life?
I can not even begin to explain how much this relationship has changed my life. I had traveled before, mainly to South America, but I had never realized the depth of culture/traditions in South Asia until I married my husband. Thousands of years of traditions are just as alive in India today - just as they were ages ago. The United States is such a young nation and a melting pot. The American culture is strong, but very diverse. The traditions have changed rapidly and adapted. This is not the case in India - traditions are strong even rigid at times.
Who proposed and how?
I was in class in the morning, and my GC called me, which was really weird because he was not normally awake at that time. I was about to take an important midterm test. He insisted that I come downstairs to the quad because it was very urgent. I met him downstairs and he looked worried and upset - he said that he had something bad to tell me. He said that his parents were not happy with us being together and that they had changed their minds about our relationship. I started to panic - my world was falling apart around me! Right at that moment , he got on his knee in front of everyone and proposed! He said that he loved me and wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. It was one of the happiest days of my life!!! I later found out that he got his friends to film the proposal. I had to go back to class wearing my new engagement ring! I was on cloud nine and everyone (including my professor) was asking me about what had happened! After the test I ran all the way to his apartment near the campus. He and his roommates made Aloo Paranthas and we had a big feast. I had to study for another exam that day but none of that mattered, I was in love and engaged!
Describe your wedding...
We decided to get married right away. We had a very nice Western Christian ceremony with a handful close friends in Las Vegas the weekend before we both graduated college. I wore a white wedding dress. My husband and I added red rose accents to the dress. Red and pink are the colors that Punjabis wear in weddings so I wanted to represent both cultures in our wedding. The wedding was so beautiful and intimate. After it was over, we came back to college to graduate. My mom came for our graduations and met my husband for the first time. A month later we had a small Punjabi Sikh wedding at the Gurdwara. It was a wonderful ceremony and it gave my family the opportunity to learn more about my husband’s culture and religion. I wore a pink Punjabi wedding suit which had so much beautiful bead work on it. It was a gift from GC’s best friend and his wife. It was a really beautiful ceremony and as I went around the Guru Granth Sahib I felt the beauty of our union.
I am very happy with our two ceremonies, they truly represented who my husband and I are - sincere, humble, and in love! The only thing I would have changed was to be able to have GC's family from India at the wedding. Someday in the future we will have a big ceremony for all our family and friends and do a renewal of our vows.
What does being married mean to you?
Marriage is a sacred union. It is one of the closest relationships we can have with another human being. My husband is my partner in this world. Through thick and thin, we stay bonded and support each other through it all.
What are your dreams for your future together as a married couple?
We have so many dreams... We want to raise our daughter to be a loving, kind, passionate human being, who draws from both her cultures/religions to be the best person she can be. We want to be successful in our careers and buy a home. We want to be happy and find joy in every part of life.
What's the best marital advice that you received from elder family/friends?
It was not really advice, but I learned by example. My grandparents were married for over 50 years. They were best friends and they were so happy together. I wanted that - a life partner! I was so happy that we got married relatively young (at age 22) because I knew I was going to be able to grow up with him. Remembering my grandparents relationship inspires to be a better wife and life partner.
What positive cultural values do you bring to your relationship?
When I think of my culture, I think of our appreciation for family. I have seven siblings so family is very important to me. I also bring into our relationship the idea of change, growth, and optimism. Culture and traditions are wonderful, but they should never impede life... and honestly sometimes they do. I bring the American optimism and ingenuity!
What do you do to keep your relationship alive? What kinds of things do you do to connect with your spouse?
We did not get a lot of alone time together alone before having our daughter. We just jumped into married life and parenthood so quickly. To keep our relationship alive, we have to do lots of little things. Play card games, talk freely, share our dreams, and have a bit of fun too. My husband and I love to paint together. We have pictures we have painted together all over our home. We also love to hike together and spend time in nature.
In what ways have you adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
I cook A LOT of Indian food! We love Indian food and I enjoy making it. I also enjoy going to the Gurdwara (Sikh temple). I love Punjabi clothes - I love the color and style. I think I have also adopted the Indian passion for throwing a good party! I love creating a memorable event!
Has your family adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
When we moved from Michigan back to California this year, we stayed with my mom while we searched for an apartment. She cooked mostly American food and one day and she used my Indian spices and surprised us by making Indian style rice and chicken. It tasted really good. My husband was pleasantly surprised!
What aspects of your spouse's culture do you find difficult to embrace?
The hardest thing for me to embrace is the fact that some of the traditions are so rigid. I feel like I am always forgetting something. For example, when someone comes to your house and they are elder to you then you should touch their feet. You then bring the guests to a formal sitting room. First you offer water. Then you offer juice or soft drinks with salty snacks. Then you bring out tea and cookies. You have to keep pushing them to eat because they always say no at first. That’s the tradition. Finally - after this whole back and forth - they eat! If you miss a step, you risk insulting someone. Some traditions are fun but others are really exhausting. Americans are more casual that way - they just put all the food out and everyone eats what and when they want! There are other traditions like this that are just exhausting, but they are not changed. In India you just don’t change the traditions!
Name some cultural faux-pas that you have unknowingly committed...
In many parts of India, it is a sign of respect to elders to touch their feet. You greet the elder with your hands together and say “ Sat Sri Akal” or whatever the greeting is from your religion, and you bend at the waist to touch their feet in a loving manner. Most people make it only to the knee before the elder pats them on the back and says “no need, no need”. I had never attempted to do this tradition while we were in the United States, but I had seen my husband do it many times. When we went to India I was going to be meeting all different relatives and I was told I needed to touch feet as a sign of respect, and not doing so could make me look stuck up. There was a big discussion about who I was supposed to touch the feet of and who I should not. I was very lost and confused. There were some special people I was supposed to cover my head for and also touch their feet, but there was disagreement between my husband, mother-in-law, and sister- in-laws as to who was important and not! They were still disagreeing when the guests came! As not to disrespect anyone, I just touched everyone's feet and then everyone proceeded to laugh at me because I didn't do it right. I felt quite embarrassed and I glowed red. I then hid in the kitchen at, volunteering to make food and such. I still get embarrassed when I think about this story - I am currently glowing red while I type this! So, the moral of the story is... I don’t do the foot-touching tradition, unless its someone a lot older and I see my husband do it first!
What was the most challenging time in your intercultural relationship?
In 2011, we lost my Father-in-law to colon cancer. It was a very aggressive cancer and he was diagnosed 2 months before he passed away. When he was initially hospitalized, my husband phoned the doctor and asked him if he should come to India, or continue to work in the U.S. (in order to pay for the treatment). The doctor told him to work and that my Father-in-law would recover. The next week, my father in law became very ill. My husband boarded a plane, but sadly my father in law passed while my husband was still in the air, en route to India. It was the most devastating that had ever happened in our family. Honestly, we have not been the same since. My husband is now the head of the household, which comes with a lot of pressure. My husband worries constantly about his mother and sisters. He lives between two countries, two time zones, and double the worries.
What's the best and the worst part of being in an intercultural relationship?
I love the fact that we can teach each other about our culture and traditions. It’s never a dull moment in our marriage. I learned to love my culture even more when I shared it with my husband. I learned to love his culture when he shared it with me. I feel like my life is so rich and full of beauty.
The worst part of an intercultural relationship is the misunderstandings. Sometimes I get left out of conversations when his friends and family switch to speaking in Punjabi. There are times when I have neglected an important part of his tradition and I was not even aware. Intercultural relationship take work.
What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that people have about intercultural relationships?
Many people have assumed that I pursued my husband only because he was from India - that I was looking for something exotic. Others have assumed that my husband pursued me because I was white, and that he needed a green card (which was not true). These people could not see past the color of our skin. We did not see color/ethnicity/or culture. We saw each other as individuals.
What are the biggest misconceptions about American women?
Many Indians believe that American women are sexually promiscuous. My husband literally thought that everyone lost their virginity on prom night!!! He worried about bringing up children in the United States. He soon learned that this was not the truth. My Mother-in-law was very worried that I would marry her son, only to divorce him for another man when I got bored. It was only when she spoke to me that she realized I really wasn't that different from an Indian girl. I blame Hollywood for these misconceptions about American women. Hollywood makes us look pretty bad!
Have you come across people who disapprove of your intercultural union? If so, how do you deal with them?
I have not come across people that openly said that they disproved of our relationship. People stare and make strange comments. We were at an Indian party once, and this Indian Aunty told my husband that he should not leave me just because I was chubby. He was so confused!
Take-away advice for other intercultural couples...
My advice is to just follow you heart. If you love each other, you will find a way to make it work. Family is important in India and so is tradition. Sadly there are times when traditions and family stand in the way of individual happiness, and a person needs the support of their family to feel confident about their future. Intercultural relationships can be hard, but they are beautiful and rewarding. Follow your heart when it comes to merging the cultures as well. Do what feels right. Don’t lose yourself in trying to adopt all the traditions of your spouse. Find a happy medium.
(All photos courtesy of My Masala Life)