A Piece of Advice
How We Make Our Interracial Marriage Work
Photo: Courtesy of Jo Xie and Yohann Engineer
An Indian-Chinese couple talks about how they go the extra mile to make their relationship work - be it visiting the places they grew up in or trying to crack what makes the other person tick.
An ordinary corporate event held in 2014 in the heart of downtown Singapore set in motion a chain of happy events that would change the course of Jo Xie and Yohann Engineer’s lives.
“We were in the same company but in completely different wings,” recalled Engineer, an Indian with Parsi heritage, in his early 30s. “But to organise that event, we had to work together. That was the first time I met her.”
By the time the event concluded, Engineer had already asked Xie out for a movie. “There was something about her – from the unique watch she wore, which had a little scarf instead of a strap, to her curious nature,” he said.
Xie, also in her early 30s, is of Chinese heritage. For her, it was Engineer’s Parsi background that excited her. “I knew he was Parsi because a colleague in my office had the same surname,” she said. “Their culture had always fascinated me, and so had the richness and mystery around it. I was instantly drawn to him, not to mention that he is genuinely a nice person, which also added to his cuteness.”
Within a year of meeting each other, the duo had moved in together. Four years later, in 2018, they tied the knot in a privately held court wedding in Singapore.
“We have been most fortunate to have parents who never had problems with race,” said Engineer. “My parents’ only concern was perhaps how we might be moving too fast – they just wanted me to be sure about what we were both signing up for.”
But the couple, now based in the Netherlands, took the plunge and hold no regrets. However, both agree that no marriage is all unicorns and roses, least of all interracial marriages.
“It’s a continued struggle,” said Engineer. “Sometimes, you don’t understand why your partner is reacting or saying things a certain way. It can leave you baffled and grasping at straws.”
When they got married, both realised that coming from different cultures meant that they often looked at the world in wildly different ways.
“You might genuinely respect each other’s cultures, which we both do,” said Engineer. “But just respecting and knowing your partner’s culture on paper isn’t enough.”
Engineer believes both partners must undertake “active and practical” measures to understand the other’s culture.
“When I first visited her hometown in China, I understood so much of her personality by default,” he added. “Being with her mother in the very house she grew up in, I realised how food is so important to her, why festivals matter a great deal, and why she snaps at me for certain things. It all started making sense.”
Getting to meet his partner’s mother was special even though some things seemed lost in translation. “He has put in the work to understand Chinese, even though he can’t speak the language fluently yet,” said Xie. “But that means the world to my mother.”
When Xie visited India, she had an “overwhelming experience with all the sights, sounds and traffic,” but she was open to understanding it all, and by extension, understanding her husband. Engineer believes Xie’s India trip changed many things for them for the better.
“For starters, she made me appreciate the finer details of my own heritage,” he said. “When we visited the Taj Mahal or the Red Fort, I saw these monuments, which I’d taken for granted, in a new light from her eyes. This was also because she is always so curious, with a million questions coursing through her mind.”
According to the couple, going out of one’s way to understand their partner’s culture and history results in a happier relationship, fewer fights, and a deeper understanding of each other’s fears and insecurities.
The couple never let themselves believe the many stereotypes the world might have about their union. As Xie puts it: “That is not a consideration in our minds, and we don’t want to be defined by preconceived notions that people might have about such unions.”
“We both have vastly different personalities that don’t fit into the generic idea of how an Indian man or a Chinese woman should be. All that matters to us is our love for each other and the continued blessings of our parents,” the couple said. “While this approach can aid intercultural couples in understanding and appreciating the nuances of each other, the same can also hold true for other couples across the board.”
Source: Arman Khan, VICE
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