A few weeks ago my mother, Joanie, called me up all atwitter, as she often does after reading not one but two newspapers first thing in the morning. (Bless her heart, she is singlehandedly keeping the physical, print version of the newspaper alive.)
“Guess what!” she chirped. “The newspaper says that according to the census, 15 percent of all new marriages in the US last year were interracial—and yours counts!”
Joanie was delighted; she loves it when I’m on trend. But something was bothering her. “The thing is,” she said. “That’s only because this new census counts ‘white Hispanics’ as a racial group.” She sounded a little disappointed, like she’d been given a present and then had it taken away. I think she had fantasies of being on-trend herself, updating the Katharine Hepburn role in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, in which the mom is shocked at her daughter’s choice of a Black husband (the dreamy Sydney Poitier!), but comes around in the end to realize that we’re all the same deep down.
Instead my “interracial” marriage to a “white Hispanic” was so unshocking that no one even noticed it was one until a year and a half later. The biggest cultural conflict Joanie and Emilio faced prior to our marriage was that she didn’t understand why he thought it was hilarious that she bought a “Shake Weight” to tone her arms in anticipation of the wedding. And since both Saturday Night Live and South Park have mocked the phallic workout tool, that has to be chalked up to a generational difference, not a cultural one.
So I see Joanie’s point: our interracial marriage is much ado about nothing at this point. We haven’t faced any kind of discrimination or criticism that I’m sure other interracial couples confront. But we have reaped a whole lot of the benefits of crosscultural marriage. Because when Greeks and Nicaraguans come together, I quickly found out, more is more.
So Amalía, our little Greekaraguan, has a larger jewelry collection than I do, three grandmas, and not one, but two Easters. The past two weeks have been a nonstop religious holiday in our nomadic home. First, Amalía’s abuela Carmen came from Nicaragua, where she lives, to New York, where we’re living for a few months while I complete a work project. The first weekend she was here, Amalía put on her Easter 1 dress (handsmocked in Nicaragua) and hat, and headed to Catholic mass for Easter. She slept through the first half, but woke up in time for several hymns. Amalía then hit the Holy Wednesday service at the Greek cathedral in New York before heading to Massachusetts with Papi, mama, and her abuelita for Orthodox Easter. Emilio and his mom were shocked that in the Orthodox church, we all take communion from the same spoon and goblet like one big, happy family, instead of receiving it in sanitary, individual wafers, but otherwise, most of the services were familiar: the refrain of Kyrie Eleison (Lord Have Mercy) during the prayers, the midnight service in which all the lights are extinguished and the congregation waits in hushed darkness until the priest brings a lit candle from the altar and passes the light around the church from worshipper to worshipper, to represent Christ being the Light of the world.
The next day, for our Easter lunch, Amalía wore a second (Easter 2) dress, given to her by yet another adoring grandma-type family friend. At seven-and-half months, Amalía is still too young to comprehend the spiritual aspects of Easter. But she clearly already gets the fashion angle, and, given her expression as she listened to the hymns in the Catholic church on Easter 1, and the fact that she was singing to herself while gazing around the frescoed ceiling of the Orthodox church on Holy Saturday, she’s already wrapped up in the wonder of this amazing time of year. And cultivating a sense of wonder, is, I think, the first step to understanding realms beyond our physical existence.
Watching Amalía take in the glories of this world with rapt enjoyment makes it a more awe-inspiring place for all of us. The Resurrection is so nice, Amalía celebrates it twice. I hope the parents of all the other children of crosscultural and interracial marriages—even those who only count because of the new census—have found their world similarly expanded and their joy multiplied by the experience. Rock on, trendsetters.