“Luke and Douglas”: Two Essays on the Same Multiracial Marriage -The Toast

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Douglas and LukeWhat can I say about the emotions of my wedding ceremony that won’t sound like a three-ring circus of cliches? I got married inside Boston’s City Hall, one of the most hideous structures conceived in modern history, an inverted bone-gray pyramid straight out of 1984. My cousin was there as a witness and three of my husband’s friends. At least the Justice of Peace’s office was tastefully decorated: a handsome bookshelf, cranberry carpet. When I said “I do” to my husband, I briefly entered a moment of the sort I’ve always pined for in life but rarely experience: happiness unstained by my perpetual financial anxieties and my bitter distaste for the many injustices that won’t seem to go away.

My husband, Douglas, came from Anhui Province, in China, a product of the economic boom of the late eighties and early nineties. We met nearly two years ago, when I crashed an incoming students’ party (I was starting my third year) at a bar near the college we both attended. This cherub-cheeked, wavy-haired journalism student stole my heart with his goofy vocal imitations of jazz trumpets. When we became an item, every time I told him something personal, he’d ask me “why didn’t you tell me that already?” as if he’d expected to have learned my entire life story on the first date.

Our honeymoon was a single night at a Mariott where a friend of mine worked. We were on the 27th floor and had a fantastic view of the Cambridge skyline and the Charles River. I had to get up early the next morning and teach at a Saturday school. I needed the money. The leases on our apartments prevented us from moving in together for the first four months of our marriage. Rationally, it shouldn’t have mattered much. Four months is not that long. But on our first night sleeping apart, it stung that pillow beside me was empty, the blanket cold when it should have been warm.

“Do you think I’m exotic?” I asked Douglas one day. We were sitting at the college cafeteria, a rarity for us since we didn’t have meal plans. I had piled my plate high with couscous, spinach salad and marinated peppers. Douglas was munching on a cheeseburger and fries.

“Yes, of course,” he said nonchalantly. He said it as if it would be preposterous for him not to think that of me. He didn’t even stop to reexamine my Mediterranean features: silver-flecked brown hair, deep-set eyes, olive skin that would be tan if I spent more time in the sun (I recently learned that he used to fantasize that I was Mike “the Situation.”) I had built in my mind a whole internal diatribe against the word “exotic.” I’m white, and, therefore, as an educated, liberal person, it would be beneath me to use such an ignorant word.

When I was a child, China seemed almost as magical as fairyland. It was the place you’d get to if you dug a hole through the center of the earth. I believed also that it was a place filled with pagodas, chopsticks and large ornate lanterns with red tassels. As I grew older and traveled a bit, I assumed that I had stopped believing in the “It’s a Small World” fairytale of geography. People were people, after all. It didn’t matter where they were from, that’s all there was to it.

However, people aren’t just people. They are individuals colored by all sorts of weird or wonderful or even insidious ideas, colored by the place they grew up, the education and parenting they received, the discussions and actions happening around them—I’m not trying get all Freudian and I’m certainly not trying to launch a nature vs. nurture debate. But I was never prepared for the cultural differences (or similarities) between Douglas and myself. Nor did I have any realistic ideas about what it might be like to be an Asian immigrant in the United States.

When we first started dating and each of us had warm fuzzies, he had to correct me multiple times when I talked about “Americans” and “Asians,” and by “Americans,” I meant white people. I didn’t know about the inferiority complex many Asians suffer from or realize how automatically we white people imply we are normal and everyone else is strange. And even if you think of yourself as cultured and accepting as I do, this mindset is so deeply engrained.

Also, when we first started dating, I was afraid that I’d be labeled a rice queen. I can honestly say that I’m attracted to a wide variety of men. Douglas was the first and only Asian I’d dated. My sad, brief, quickly fizzling attempts at love before him were Latino, white and black. But I’d also have to honestly, though far less eagerly, say that I did fetishize people that were racially or ethnically different. To me, they seemed like adventures, escapes from the white middle class monotony I’d always known.

So yes, deep down, he was exotic to me, and he’d totally called my bluff. Or maybe I called my own.

Two days before we finally moved in together, I lay in bed watching The Life and Times of Harvey Milk. I’d written a short story, which I’m still trying to publish, about an academic hopeful who falsifies a translation of a conquistador-era diary and inserts an erotic relationship between the two male protagonists. The idea was that homosexuality has been omitted from much of history—we’ve always been there, but our stories haven’t been told. On the screen were soft constellations of candle flame streaming down from the Castro to City Hall, thousands mourning Harvey Milk’s assassination. I laid alone in bed and cried. A piece of my history had been captured on film.

I thought, when I started dating Douglas, that I’d  be able to empathize completely with his experience. We were both minorities, after all. And to a degree, I was right. We’d both led repressed lives: mine due to a conservative Evangelical upbringing, his due to a prevailing notion among many Chinese, especially the older generations, that homosexuality is a sexual perversion. Most people don’t know I’m gay unless I tell them, but I’ve still had slurs lobbed at me or around me. Perhaps the most hurtful are the ones made people who didn’t have any knowledge of my true identity, the ones I was too afraid to correct.

Over the two years we’ve been together, I’ve tried to help Douglas, as much as my limited capacity allows, with starting his career as a journalism, particularly with the job hunt. I’ve critique his resume, proofread cover letters, waited together with him to see if anything came from throwing them into those dark, gaping vortexes call job applications. Whenever he was in a bad mood, he’d complain about the lack of Asians in the news room or how such-and-such a young white classmate had gotten hired by an NBC or CBS affiliate. Or, if he was really angry, why wasn’t the United States founded by Chinese? Why wasn’t it a melting pot for Asians with whites as a six-percent minority?

I usually snapped back with some “that’s just the way it is and you’d better learn accept it (while fighting as hard as you can, but not expecting real changes)” rhetoric. I wasn’t sure really what else to say. Sometimes I’d rationalize why certain white journalism students got an amazing job, while few of the Chinese students succeeded. “It’s because the white students were willing to move to Vermont or North Dakota. You can’t just stick to New York, San Francisco and L.A.”

The day after my Harvey Milk tearfest, while we were packing up my stuff, I looked Douglas in the eye and said “I’m sorry.” He looked back at me, confused. Sorry for what? Sorry because, even if I did know what it was to wonder why I seldom heard back from the jobs I applied to, I didn’t know what it was like to wonder beyond that. To wonder if the inscrutable eyes reading my resume presumed I had too heavy an accent for television news or saw my last name as foreign, exotic. I did a horrible job explaining all this to Douglas, but he knew what I was trying to say. He gave me a hug. I moved on and became a better person. And that’s the end.

Except it’s totally not the end. I’ve barely budged at all. It’s only just the beginning, and I’ve still got a long way to go.


Douglas and Luke2Here is how I usually introduce myself to strangers for the last two years, ever since I’ve moved to America: I was born in and grew up in the capital of Anhui province, an inland state on the east coast of China. It’s two hours away from the internationally renowned Shanghai if you take the Bullet Train (I’m proud to say that it’s another product of the rocketing development of China’s economy.) Yes, my mom sent me to English school when I was seven, and I started learning English with a British curriculum. But when American cartoons, movies and American “culture” came to China in the early 1990s, I naturally shifted my accent to try to sound more American.

“This is such an Asian way to say it,” my fiancé—this was before we’d gotten married—was looking at the second article that I was going to pitch to Dig Boston. We were both sitting by the window in small taqueria. As usual, I was letting let him review and copyedit my writing pieces before I submitted them.

I was madI felt like I had never been that mad before. I squeezed my coffee mug and shook my head with disappointment. In a split second, millions of thoughts came to my mind in complete disorder. I struggled to prioritize what to say first. If there were anything I could say, it would be “man, that’s racist.” Period. I simply didn’t want to bother going on and on explaining the reasons why. All I wanted to do at that time was to throw my coffee mug at the restaurant’s window and watch it shatter to pieces.

I’ve worked so hard on concealing my accent to the point that, for the past two years, barely anybody is able to guess whether I grew up in China or America. And to be honest, I’ve hidden my identity pretty well on numerous occasions. If I’m called an alien or Asian immigrant, it always sets off my inferiority complex. I want to behave like a native. I want to blend in. Something that terrifies me and also makes me extremely irate is being shut out of a conversation in which I could understand every single word that other people said, because I just couldn’t think of an appropriate response or some insightful view.

My husband, Luke Jones, originally from Maryland, moved to North Carolina with his parents, sister and brother when he was 14 years old. Like the stereotype of Southerners, he is sweet, friendly, patient, and among all these blessings, he is a great cook! He impressed me as a beautiful soul on so many levels when we first met at Rattle Snake, a bar just a two-minute walk away from Emerson College in Boston, where we both we attended grad school.

He speaks Spanish as a second language and spent three months in one of the poorest parts of Mexico teaching English. He is benevolent and he loves kids. I remember when we took a vacation in Maine last summer, he pretended to be a shark to tease a six-year-old kid in the pool.

All in all, he possesses many of the personality traits I think that an ideal partner needs to have.

Things, of course, get really rocky sometimes. You might argue that there is no relationship in this world that goes as smoothly as how most couples at the beginning think it will. Quite honestly, at the beginning of our relationship, especially in the first a couple of months we were dating, neither of us would have imagined that we’d be dress in suits, swearing in our marriage at Boston City Hall one day.

I even remember getting hysterical once and yelling at him, “do you know how much work and effort you are going to put in when you are dating an immigrant? It’s a lot! Don’t get impatient when things don’t go in your way. You chose this.”

I hate to be cynical, but whenever we’d fight over certain things, I couldn’t help but think “you Americans know that you live in a bubble, but why don’t any of you even make a small effort to break it?”

And this thought has been in the back of my mind at almost any event we’d attend, parties, gatherings, and public activities. Whenever that thought came to mind and I expressed it to Luke, it was certain to be followed by endless argument, reasoning, explanation, silence, introspection and then finally we’d bounce back to talking to each other like a sweet old couple, calling each other all kinds of cute animals. “You are my little piggy!” “You are my little froggy!”

One night, we went out to eat with Luke’s former roommate and his mom who’d flown in from Indiana. It all started nicely. She was friendly, confident, and energetic, and she talked about all kinds of interesting things that I’d never heard of. She treated us to fancy desserts at Finale, a stylish little restaurant near Boston’s Theater District. We laughed and shared conversations, and for about an hour, I was in love with this Midwestern female character. She made me feel that I could freely express my opinions without fearing that my point of view would be judged as being “too exotic” or “too Asian.” That is until the moment when she commented on Asian beauty. I don’t remember how our conversation spiraled into this topic. Maybe it was because I was sitting with her, and she was trying to be nice to my ethnicity and me. I don’t want to make any false assumptions here, but this is what she said:

“The Asian women are so beautiful. They look so young even when they get old.” She made gestures in front of her face as if to suggest that there weren’t any wrinkles on a 50-year-old Asian woman’s face. Her next line was what really caught me, and the more I thought about it, the more it bothered me.

She continued, “We American women just look…when we get old.” Again, she was gesturing in front her face to suggest how wrinkled “American” women’s faces get in their senior years.

And please trust me, later on, when I repeated this conversation to test my white American friends, NOBODY figured out what was offensive about it.

“What’s wrong with this conversation?” I asked a white friend at a party when I found myself yet again in a conversation about racism.

“It’s not right to judge other races’ exotic looks, correct?” he said reluctantly after I pressed him.

“No! She excluded Asian people from ‘American’ society,” I said with frustration. After all my friend was from, Massachusetts, the most liberal state in the U.S. “When she distinguished between ‘Asian’ and ‘American,’” I went on, “she was unconsciously suggesting that Asians are not American. What about Asian American women? They may look young too, but she’s not putting them into the ‘wrinkled-face American women’ category. By saying ‘we American women,’ she probably meant white American woman like herself.”

I guess I should note here that not all the white American women actually age faster; it was a generalization meant out of goodwill through which she tried to express a positive message toward my ethnicity. It may have originated out of a good intention, but the message I received wasn’t at all the message she’d meant to send. I don’t believe it’s entirely her fault, because she’s one of the millions who live in that individualist bubble of America, where such statements and generalization are assumed to have little-to-no negative impact on their targets.

Interestingly, Luke couldn’t figure it out either. He thought that being in love with me would be enough that he’d completely understand racism. But obviously it wasn’t enough, and this is just one example. I still had to explain it to him.

We are a happy couplea very satisfied couple at that. We sometimes even secretly wondered whether the people around us might be jealous of us for our seemingly perfect relationship. We still hug each other all the time and call each other “beebz” (it means “baby” in our glossarydon’t look it up in Urban Dictionary, they have it all wrong.) But we know there are plenty of surprises still ahead of us in our multiracial relationship. Some may be just around the corner.

Douglas Yu and Luke M. Jones have been happily married since January 2014. Both recent graduates of Emerson College, Douglas freelances for Somerville Times and Spare Change News and has been featured in Dig Boston, while Luke served as founding editor of Words Apart. Luke's work has also appeared in the Passages North blog, Slush Pile Magazine and The Knicknackery.

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