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My parents used to joke about one of their daughters bringing home "un yerno americano" — an American son-in-law. But beneath their lighthearted tone existed a real concern in my family, and families like mine, about cultural shifts with the next generation. My husband, John, speaks no Spanish, has never shed a tear listening to Chente, and thinks store-bought salsa is just fine. Our story is far from unique. Latinos make up 17 percent of the nation and 38 percent of California, where we live. It's no wonder that interethnic and interracial marriage in the United States grew by an astounding 28 percent in 2010 Census data. Most of these couples live in the Western and Southwestern parts of the country. If you want a Latina wife, go West.
Meeting and falling in love with my husband didn't feel like a multicultural event; we were just two people who liked each other's company. Our first date was at an Indian restaurant in Berkeley, Calif. I'd walked by the restaurant a thousand times but felt too intimidated by the unfamiliar words and foods to ever go inside. My husband, who is part Indian, introduced me to rich curries, aromatic naan breads, and milky mango lassis. After an evening of conversation, I was hooked — on the food and him.
I lived in a bubble of romance for several months before we decided to make the trip down to Los Angeles to meet my family. My mother and sister were warm, chatty and curious. My father was polite, but distant. Five years elapsed. By then, my dad had started calling him "Johnny" or "el John."
My husband isn't Latino, but he makes an effort. He asked me to marry him on bended knee in San Francisco's Union Square, but he still asked for my father's blessing afterward. Sometimes he picks up pan dulce — from a real panadería — on his way home from the office. Our foods are as diverse as our backgrounds: Cuban, Guatemalan, French, Portuguese, Indian, and American.
It's true, sometimes we reach a cultural impasse; he was perplexed by idea of piercing our baby's ears and we never did it. Sometimes our differences work in my favor. He didn't grow up with any of the latent machismo I saw in many of the men I knew. He also didn't have a doting Latina mother — my theory being that any grown man who still calls his mother "Amá" is trouble.
Some things I did lose. My daughter won't have the same cultural identity as I did, it's harder to raise a bilingual child when I'm the only one teaching her Spanish, and there are facets of my culture which resist translation.
While some things are lost, others are gained. Our family has developed its own florid language. When we kiss our daughter goodnight, she says "goodnight" and "buenas noches." We dance to many kinds of music and yes, all our foods are delicious. Our daughter is growing up with a wider set of perspectives and influences.
I do want to be careful not to make interethnic families seem like a caricature. Our life isn't like the opening ceremony at the Olympics by any means. Both my husband and I were born in the United States, and that experience shapes much of our life as well. Our daughter's background is complex; she's an American girl. As for me, I've found that love feels the same in English and Spanish.