Saturday, May 28, 2016

My Intercultural Love: Raghu & Jo

I am Jo, born and raised in Minnesota with a mostly-Scandinavian ethnic background. My husband Raghu is Indian and from Bangalore. He moved to the US for a Master's program and came to Minneapolis for his first job after graduation. We met and currently live in the Minneapolis, Minnesota area. 

Three words that describe you...
Open, resourceful, happy. 

Favorite childhood memory...
Growing up on my family's farm. Feeding calves and doing other farm chores with my dad, gardening with my mom, and playing with my sister, brother, dogs, and lots of cats. 

Where/how do you feel most inspired?
I am inspired by writing, travel, and good conversation. 

Where/how did you meet your spouse?
We met online, but Raghu recognized me from the deli where I worked at the time. We lived in the same neighborhood in Minneapolis.

How long have you been together?
Almost 6 years. Married for 2 years this June. 

What qualities do you admire in your spouse?
His dedication to his dreams and his fierce loyalty to family. He's an independent thinker but gets along with everybody. He works hard and plans diligently for the future, but still seeks out joy and pleasure in life. 

Favorite memory together as a couple...
Our wedding day, especially the reception. We had worked so hard to plan the whole weekend, and when the Hindu ceremony was over and we finally felt like we could relax and enjoy, we recited our "speeches" (vows) to our gathered family and friends. Those speeches allowed us to translate the commitments we had made in our Hindu ceremony to the mostly-American, mostly-Christian guests. It felt like the first time many of my family and friends really understood what we meant to each other and the depth of our love. Raghu's parents could not attend, but his brother came all the way from Australia and shared their blessings. We performed our choreographed, painstakingly rehearsed first dance to "Tum Hi Ho," and then we didn't stop dancing until everyone said goodnight. I had never felt so much love as I did that day.

What did you know about your spouse's culture prior to your relationship?
Not much. I liked Bollywood and biryani. 

How did you tell your friends/family about your intercultural relationship?
My family loved Raghu right away, and I knew they would. I think the real challenges came later, when they had a difficult time understanding why Raghu hadn't told his parents about me after we had dated for a few years. I think there were also times my family worried that I was losing myself by adopting so much of Raghu's culture.

How has your relationship enlightened your life? How has it changed you & your outlook on life?
Raghu showed me my inner strength and taught me how to fight for the things I want. I had grown up as an overachiever-type, and I worked hard enough and was rewarded for it. But after college, suddenly everything was difficult. I couldn't find a job in my field. I didn't know what had happened to the person I used to be, but I just waited around, complaining and making excuses for my situation. Raghu gave me some tough love and told nothing comes free in this life, but you can still achieve what you dream of even if it doesn't come easily or naturally to you. His lessons weren't always pleasant, but he patiently showed me that I can do almost anything with enough practice and persistence, and I'm learning to push past my emotions and to take control of the outcomes of my life.

Who proposed and how?
Raghu proposed at a birthday party for me and my sister at my parent's farm. We had just finished opening gifts, and Raghu snuck upstairs. When he came down he said he had "a special gift for Jo." He proposed in front of my parents, siblings, and niece. It was perfect. 

Describe your wedding...
We had a Hindu ceremony at the Hindu Temple of Minnesota. It was simple but very special, with a few humorous moments of confusion. My parents had no idea what they were expected to do during the ceremony, and, frankly, we didn’t really know either. But the priest guided us and our guests through it, and everyone said it was very beautiful and sweet. We had a slightly more Western reception afterwards, with an Indian buffet and lots of dancing. My parents read a Christian prayer before the dinner, and we gave vows/speeches to each other. 

What does being married mean to you?
Being married means never feeling alone in this world. Marriage is family, home, and companionship. 

What are your dreams for your future together as a married couple?
We are planning a move somewhere warmer in the near future and to maybe buy a home. We hope to have children in the next couple of years. We want to take as many trips as we can - there are so many places we want to see. I hope that we can spend more time with Raghu's parents – I still haven't had a chance to go to India! 

What's the best marital advice that you received from elder family/friends?
Never badmouth your spouse, and make all your important decisions together. 

What positive cultural values do you bring to your relationship?
Generosity and a willingness to see the best in people. 

What do you do to keep your relationship alive? What kinds of things do you do to connect with your spouse?
When we are both at home, we cook and eat our meals together. We do a lot of regular household chores together, like grocery shopping and cleaning. We try to participate in each other's interests – traveling, cooking and making up new recipes, working out together, and going on motorcycle rides to our favorite picnic spots. I've been working on learning Kannada so that I can communicate better with Raghu's mom and so that we can raise bilingual children together. 

In what ways have you adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
Most of our meals together are Indian or Indian-inspired - Raghu is the better cook. I've stopped eating beef and don't eat meat on Mondays. We observe most Hindu festivals that are important to Raghu's family and go to the temple together. Since we live in the US, I feel like food and festivals are the most visible ways I've adopted Raghu's culture, but I know there’s more than that. I see the world differently since Raghu and I have been together. I don't have such a strong of a sense of entitlement, my attitude toward career and money has changed slightly, and I'm more comfortable with being late for things (not sure if that's a good thing). 

Has your family adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
Not in a huge way. They are very curious and eager to learn. They like it when Raghu cooks Indian food for them, and they are good sports about trying even the spiciest dishes. We celebrated Diwali with them last year. 

What aspects of your spouse's culture do you find difficult to embrace?
My husband is pretty liberal about cultural and religious practices. If there is something about his culture I can’t embrace, he hasn’t introduced me to it and probably doesn’t want to. He does what works for him in the situation and environment he’s in – he won't go along with something he doesn't agree with just because it is tradition or his parents tell him to. That isn't to say there weren't adjustments to make, and I've been through my share of uncomfortable situations and conversations. He has always assured me that I don't have to do anything I don't want to. We have been able to talk through and understand these differences to live in a way that works for both of us. 

Name some cultural faux-pas that you have unknowingly committed...
I'm always committing cultural faux-pas, and it usually it involves putting my feet somewhere they shouldn’t be or throwing food around (like into a grocery cart) without thinking about it. This drives Raghu nuts. When we go to the temple, people sometimes stare, making me uncomfortable, and in my awkwardness I inadvertently do something weird, often something I already know I’m not supposed to do. I used to get upset about this – I’m kind of a perfectionist – but a better approach has been to not overthink and to accept that these things will happen and I will be embarrassed, but I will be forgiven. 

What was the most challenging time in your intercultural relationship?
Initially, we had to learn how to talk to each other. I used to feel like Raghu was ordering me around whenever he asked for something or tried to offer advice. I remember one of the first times Raghu visited my family, he said, "Make me some tea." My sister looked at me and asked, "Why can't he get his own tea? Why does he have to talk to you like that?” I had to explain to her, he's not demanding tea from me, even if that's what it sounds like. It's just his way of asking for something. If I say no, he’ll just get up eventually and get it himself. But it took me a long time to adjust to this and to train myself to not snap back at him. It was a learning curve for both of us. We've had to learn each other's triggers and also to pause and listen more carefully before judging or responding defensively. 

What's the best and the worst part of being in an intercultural relationship?
The best part is the new experiences. It seems like every week we are celebrating a festival or making a new favorite food. We have so many milestones and celebrations to look forward to – I still haven't been to India and have so much more to learn about my husband's home and family. 

On a bad day, the same novelty that I love about being in an intercultural relationship can be frustrating. His norms are not my norms. I'm always realizing I'm committing a faux-pas or learning about some non-negotiable my husband has that I wasn't even aware of. This will be even more of a challenge when we have children. We will both need to learn as we go about childhood in the other’s culture, so we know why the other parents the way he or she does. That way we can come up with new approaches that satisfy both of us. We’ve already had to consider how we would reconcile big and small differences about things we feel very passionate about – discipline, education, and the role of grandparents in our children's lives. We don’t necessarily have a model for this new family culture, and our families’ opinions and involvement will have the potential to drive a wedge between us, so it will be important to stay united. 

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that people have about intercultural relationships?
I think a common misconception is that we have some ulterior motive for being together that other couples don't – that we are marrying for a green card, making a statement, rebelling, abandoning an old life, thinking we are too good for someone within our own culture, marrying a skin color or an exotic culture we are attracted to rather than one person we love. I think there's also a misconception that we are doing something reckless or naive, and an attitude that says, "If they only knew, they'd avoid a lot of trouble down the road." If anything, I think we’ve spent more time considering the possibilities and are even more prepared for the challenges ahead than people who marry within their culture. 

Have you come across people who disapprove of your intercultural union? If so, how do you deal with them?
Raghu's parents did not accept our relationship at first. Raghu's mom didn't speak to him for almost a year. I felt very sad for him, but he had resigned himself to his decision and didn't show any doubt about his intentions. The situation was difficult because Raghu hadn't seen them in many years, and he didn't have the means to tell them about me in person or to visit them before we got engaged and married. It took time for them to accept our marriage, but they came around. It helped to finally meet them and to alleviate some of their fears. They are kind and warm people who accepted me as their daughter. I miss them and wish we could see them more often. 

Take-away advice for other intercultural couples...
If you are in a new intercultural relationship, be patient, and don’t give up too soon. Listen – even when you believe yourself to be a good listener – because there are completely different upbringings, experiences, and values behind the words. It may take a long time to understand aspects of the other person, and you may never understand everything. This doesn’t have to break you – instead, it will enrich your life and expand your understanding of the world. 

As your relationship grows, separate out what you want from all the other voices that tell your how it should be or how your partner/spouse should behave. Intercultural relationships are not for everyone. If you are questioning something, you won't necessarily find the validation you are looking for from friends or family who have never straddled the line between cultures the way the two of you do. You have to be brave, not only to decide what you want, but to commit to continuing to learn, to make mistakes, to sometimes concede in arguments, and to always keep growing in your love. 

And after that, if you are committed to your intercultural love, get comfortable with conflict - feeling it, talking about it, and negotiating it. I don’t believe it ever goes away. Agree to put each other first when dealing with parents or in-laws, and make your decisions together. Prepare to set boundaries with your families, and support and defend each other as you do, because it will never be easy or equal in all situations. Both of you must be headstrong and committed to your relationship and the fusion of cultures you create together with your love. 



  1. WOW their facial structures are almost exactly the same! Funny how that happens with a lot of couples.


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