Huy X. Le, our very own Jagged Noodles columnist, has always tried to be open. His Vietnamese family, though, thought he was just a little weird. He became a vegan, went into social work, writes a humor column, etc. So it was to nobody’s surprise when he brought home his future wife, Jameela, an African American woman.
Seattle is known for its openness when it comes to these things and it’s not unusual to see mixed-race couples, but Le and his wife garner a little more attention than others.
“We do occasionally get looks from Asian or Black people, because the Black-Woman-Asian-Man (“BWAM!”) is probably the rarest combo of all,” he says.
In our modern time and with the area’s diverse population, people freely enjoy the ability to be with someone from a different race. But not so long ago—and still today in certain parts of the country —Le and his wife would have faced ridicule, hostility, and even prosecution. The choice of one’s partner has not always been a free one.
Marriage, as a practice, is a core foundation of society and so ingrained in our species that for almost everyone, it’s simply a fact of life hard-wired into the brain. What girl doesn’t dream of her perfect wedding and what boy doesn’t think about spending his life with his crush? To not marry is even looked upon as a pitiful circumstance, as if that person is an outcast, destined for a lonely existence. And while the nature of marriage has evolved greatly over time, the fiercest debates and regulations have not been over what marriage is but over who could marry.
Restrictions on spouse selection have been around for as long as marriage itself and were widespread across all cultures. Every society has its own Romeo and Juliet story—star-crossed lovers who, for one reason or another, could not be together, usually with tragic endings. Even the United States, a country founded on the ideals of freedom, has a past steeped in intolerance of unions which crossed social boundaries. The grevious of all? Race.
Inter-racial relationship was officially termed “miscegenation” during the colonial years. It comes from the Latin miscere, “to mix” and genus, “kind.” At the time, it was widely (and wrongly) believed that whites and non-whites belong to different biological groups. We know now that all humans are of the same genus and species, Homo sapiens. We are all the same kind.
Anti-miscegenation laws were first officially enacted in 1691, as a form of racial segregation, to prevent the marriage (also cohabitation and sex) between whites and blacks and Native Americans. Asians were later added to the laws. The label “Mongolian” was sometimes used, once again, based on the erroneous scientific classification at the time that Mongolian included Chinese and Japanese. Laws were further amended when Malay (Filipino) and Korean immigrants arrived. Georgia’s anti-miscegenation law was most inclusive: non-white, persons of color, Mongolian, Chinese, Japanese, Asiatic Indian were all on the list. Washington never had anti-miscegenation laws against Asians specifically but our friends Oregon, Idaho, and California did.
These laws were not only racist in nature but also sexist in enforcement, as exemplified by the Cable Act of 1922, which stripped citizenship from U.S. women who married Asian men, but not vice versa.
The momentum started to shift in the 1960s as the civil rights movement picked up steam and spread across the nation. The U.S. Supreme Court had three times in the past rejected attempts at making anti-miscegenation a national law and in 1967, it finally put an end to the matter in the case of Loving v. Virginia.
Mildred Jeter, an African/Native American woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, sued the state of Virginia because it had previously jailed them for being an inter-racial couple. The case went to the Supreme Court where Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws were deemed unconstitutional and “designed to maintain White Supremacy.” Similar laws which were still in effect in the 17 Southern states became obsolete.
As a result of the ruling, inter-racial marriages proliferated…but not on the same scale. Taken as a whole, Asians tend to “out-marry” much more than other races and women have since been the likeliest to do so. Of those who “out-marry” it is commonly to White men. When compared to Asian men, women are about three times as likely to marry a white spouse.
There are many hypotheses about this phenomenon, a number of which bring up controversial issues like the fetishizing of Asian women, White-idolization, and effemination of Asian men by the media. Whatever the case, it’s still worthwhile to remember that not so long ago and for hundreds of years before that, it wasn’t possible at all.
Just as the inter-racial marriage issue took the back seat, another debate sped off. This time, the attention isn’t on traditional man-woman unions but on same-sex marriages. Many people are now fighting, ironically, to mix the same “kind” so that they too could take part in this sacred tradition. Although we’ve been there before, how long will it take this time?
On a recent episode of “Futurama,” an animated TV show based in the year 3000, the issue of robosexual marriage – between robot and human, a big taboo – was used as a parody of current events. By then, gay marriage had already been legalized. But not robot and human.
“It’s time to discuss a pressing issue: the right to marry who or what we want!” declared the human character. Seems like this will be an ongoing debate.
“I don’t think falling in love should be like buying a car, where you get to choose your favorite color and model,” says Le. “I think people should stay open to the possibilities.”