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Cross-cultural relationships in America.

Anita and Max found each other and fell in love while traveling in India. A new relationship was the last thing they were searching for, each having just ended long-term relationships. Anita is from Canada and Max, from Italy. Now married and settled in Colorado, my wife and I have become close friends of the couple whom we met while on an afternoon neighborhood walk. Maybe because my wife and I are also from different cultures, we find kinship in our unique experience in a small town in America. One thing we all agree on is that we are often given the opportunity to find ways that enhance our similarities, not our differences. It is in our similarities where we find love, healing, and joy.

Cultural differences are a part of these unique unions that are alive with freshness. Many cross-cultural couples in America keep their love growing, despite cultural differences that can be overwhelmingly apparent at times. These relationships come with their share of challenges, but have proven to be a defining factor in the enrichment of America's cultural diversity.

There is a safety and comfort in what is familiar. Whether it is food, social events, travel destinations, or hobbies, we know we can, and should, trust what we have experienced in the past. What happens when the unexpected and unfamiliar comes into our lives in the form of an irresistible attraction to someone who could become our spouse? Many people have asked themselves this question in America over the last several hundred years. Although cross-cultural relationships are defined by two beings from two different cultures, the love that brings them together does not recognize cultural differences.

One of the most popular stories of cross-cultural love can be found in Shakespeare's tale of Romeo and Juliet. Although, the story has a tragic ending, the emphasis is on the irresistible power of love beyond cultures or social standards. America, having a long history of blending cultures, has rich historical evidence of cross-cultural marriages.

Early Examples of Cross Cultural Marriage in America

In the early 1600s, John Rolfe, an English settler and successful tobacco planter, married the well-known Pocahontas from the Native American Powhatan tribe in Virginia. Pocahontas's relationship with Rolfe not only stood out as a unique early example of cross-cultural relationships in America, but was influential in creating peace between the settlers and the native tribes. Pocahontas's authentic enthusiasm and compassion toward white settlers helped to create goodwill and acceptance in the greater community. We can even say that she altered history because her countenance coupled with her actions helped to bridge a significant gap between two different cultures in Virginia, where the roots of our country were formed. While there may be some glamorized tales of Pocahontas' life, we know that her life and relationship are factual and indeed demonstrate the power of cross-cultural bonds.

In these years of early settlement in America, cross-cultural marriage was a unique occurrence. In later years, marriage between settlers and natives became more common. Laws were established in both cultures which determined how this complex arrangement worked in, or out, of the native tribes. In most cases, in these early settlement years, there was no middle ground. Because of certain customs and traditions, someone was only part of one culture, but not both. These early laws helped determine which culture the couple was to be considered a part.

Gender issues and racial and cultural identity have always been major consideration in cross-cultural marriages. The decision for whites and Native Americans to intermarry had strong implications for both races. Many native tribes maintained and only recognized matrilineal bloodlines (Alexander, 2007). If a native man was to marry a white woman, their offspring would be considered from the woman's race. This matriarchal custom was later changed by some of the native tribes allowing children of mixed marriages to be considered a part of their father's lineage and culture. Although this allowance contributed to a more patriarchal dominant society in America, it began a trend of racial and cultural tolerance and understanding. Early years of cross-cultural marriage in America were filled with controversy and consequences; nevertheless, they began to define and create a society with order and diversity.

Cross-cultural marriages revealed where a culture stood on their racial perspectives and prejudices. In the early 19th century, there was a big controversy over Harriet Gold, a white woman who married a Cherokee, Elias Boudinot. Gold integrated into the Cherokee nation which was shocking to the culture of the settlers (Alexander, 2007). Many early white settlers were able to accept the dominating aspect of a native woman marrying into their culture, as in the case with John Rolfe and Pocahontas, but revealed their racial prejudices when a white woman married into a native tribe.

Many racial and cultural issues came up as a result of these cross-cultural marriages. While never easy, these issues are bridges that must be crossed in any blending culture. Eventually, each culture had to find ways to accept and honor the choice of the people who wanted to marry. Laws were passed and traditions were modified in both native and white cultures that allowed, protected and defined the complexities of cross-cultural marriages.

These marriages between Native Americans and settlers were very unique because they were chosen out of free will. Up until this age, arranged marriages across cultural boundaries in Europe, Africa, or Asia were almost entirely for political purposes, claiming alliances, power and land through the giveaway of a bride. These unique cross-cultural marriages happening in America were entered into with entirely different intentions. These marriages began to set a trend and create a positive phenomenon in America.

Changing Times

America was pushed to redefine many racial and cultural viewpoints during the 20th century, especially between blacks and whites, after centuries of division, racism, and slavery. Immediately after interracial marriage laws were deemed illegal in the '60s, black and white marriages began to increase all across the country (Tubbs, 2003). By the early 1990s, there were close to 250 thousand black-white couples in America.

Laws against interracial marriages were overturned in 1967 in the United States Supreme Court after Richard Perry Loving, a white man, and his wife Mildred Loving, black, fought for their rights. After the couple married outside of Virginia, where the Racial Integrity Act was in effect, they moved back and were arrested in their home and put on trial. After 8 years of different legal actions, they not only avoided imprisonment, but helped to completely end the Racial Integrity Act in Virginia and all interracial marriage restrictions in America. Pocahontas would have been proud of the legalized right to marry across races in her own state of Virginia.

Black-white couples continue to redefine and heal racial differences. While many black-white couples can face negative behavior directed towards them, most of their relational dynamics are similar to any other relationship. When racial issues arise, it offers an opportunity for each person to face his or her views on race (Tubbs, 2003). Just like the brave souls who chose to marry cross-culturally in the early settlement years had to take on society's prejudices, black-white couples today are given a similar opportunity to show that love has no color.

Most cross-racial couples agree that the hostility they feel directed towards them stems from cultural ignorance. Members of older generations of varying ethnic backgrounds who were brought up during times of slavery and segregation may hold certain feelings and beliefs reflective of earlier times. The Chinese Exclusion Act (1882-1943) is the only non-wartime federal law to prohibit the entry of a specific race to a nation. During this time, most Chinese felt the hatred and sometimes violence aimed towards their entire culture. In Louisiana, in the '70's, a justice of the peace refused to marry an interracial couple claiming that he was concerned for the wellbeing of the children born of a cross-racial marriage (Coehlo-Sousae, 2009). Some cross-racial couples in America have continued to be attacked physically or verbally, which is always deeply disturbing to be singled out in such a violent way. PBS did a documentary in the 1990's on the life and trials of a cross-cultural marriage, Bill Sims and Karen Wilson, appropriately titled "An American Love Story." For those couples who see through the lens of their shared love, the ignorance and partial knowledge that motivates others' violent and exclusionary acts is almost always apparent, although it does not change the feeling of violation.

Some feel that President Obama represents the changing views of the majority of the American people. Obama, who was born of a cross-cultural relationship, being elected president, shows that people either are more tolerant or have more encompassing values than earlier generations. Still too early to gauge, Obama's presence may be influential on the tolerance and numbers of cross-cultural or inter-racial marriages.

This cultural trend of free will and the right to choose one's life partner later extended into the United States Military. In both World Wars, there were many military bases in Europe and Asia. Countless "military brides" have emigrated from foreign lands to be with their American husbands. Lee and Lee's (2007) cultural study explains how several Korean military brides now live in New York. Most cases demonstrate how the lives of the women were improved from unfortunate circumstances in their home country. Although the culture change and integration were difficult and lonely for these women, their lives were essentially saved by their marriages.

The increase in cross-cultural relationships is a direct result of globalization. Changing times have dramatically affected cultural practices. Some cultures are concerned about these changes because of how they affect their traditions, religion, and cultural views on marriage. Yet, as the times are changing, this sort of exploration is a natural occurrence that has to unfold on its own.

East Indian communities are rapidly adjusting to this change in Western civilization. Ajit Adhopia (2002) of the Toronto Star agrees that "Love transcends caste, race, religion or culture. In a multi-cultural, multi-racial society, mixed marriages are inevitable." Adhopia continues with the assurance that Hindu culture will survive in North America and the world. He further enforces that mixed marriages are a culturally enriching benefit to any society. Therefore, traditions may have changes and offshoots, but it takes something significantly greater to lose those traditions entirely.

During the '90s, America had a large influx of Asian immigration to the United States. There have been times when up to 47 % of Asian women between the ages of 20 and 34 have married across cultures in America. During the '80s, mixed marriages between Asians and Americans reached a peak. Qian and Lichter (2007) conducted an in-depth study of many crosscultural marriages in America (see figure 1). While their research shows that there is a mild decrease in some of the cross-cultural marriages, they are still occurring at all-time highs in the year 2000.

Why, according to Figure 1, is there a mild decline in cross-cultural marriages between 1990 and 2000? Qian and Lichter (2007) explain how influxes of certain ethnic groups increase the chances of ethnic intermarriage. If we look at the overall exponential rate of ethnic crosscultural marriages within those 10 years, we can easily see that there is still a growing long-term trend. There are other factors that will continue to let us see these numbers rise by 2010. Many other ethnic groups continue to immigrate to America. Racial and ethnic boundaries continue to melt away as tolerance, diversity, and peace are ever more popular amongst the masses.

On the Inside of Cross-Cultural Relationships

For some ethnic groups there may be a psychological aspect of marrying cross-culturally. More impoverished countries who view America as a land of opportunity and abundance may translate those views into their feelings on marriage and romantic relationships. For some, it might be a way to find a sense of dignity by integrating with a dominant culture. The personal and cultural complexities and challenges of belonging to a dying culture or being from a country that is dominated by war or oppressive gender roles may be alleviated through a cross-cultural marriage. This may explain why there is such a high percentage of racial intermarriage in American Indian culture. Furthermore, marrying across racial or cultural boundaries opens up one's possibilities to meet their life partner.

Cross-cultural marriages fulfill people's authentic desire for love and companionship. When cross-cultural marriages are arranged for political needs and tactics, the ones being married are treated like a commodity. There is less tolerance for politically arranged marriages as well as less of a need. Our governments and trade systems are not based on aristocracies, land rights, and bloodlines anymore. In today's world, the freedom for people to choose who they marry has replaced many old systems.

Cross-cultural marriages have the potential to improve lives and enrich culture. As demonstrated earlier with the Korean women, many people, especially women, have the opportunity to move to a higher quality of life. Women who live in oppressive cultures have the opportunity to experience gender equality and respect when they come to America. Women have the chance to achieve "The American Dream" in a cultural sense, and in a legal sense. Everyone has equal rights and is protected by the laws of the country.

Cross-cultural marriages create understanding and tolerance in many ways. The children born from cross-cultural marriages have the opportunity to learn about more than one heritage. Knowing that they are from different ancestries creates tolerance towards people of different backgrounds than their own. There are countless second and third generation Americans with mixed cultural and racial backgrounds.

Cross-cultural marriages bridge gaps between cultures. In a cross-cultural marriage, one is affected in many ways through learning about his or her spouse's culture. Everyday cultural commonalities involving food, hobbies, music, and friends are affected in a cross-cultural relationship. While these differences could pull a couple farther apart, many people in cross-cultural marriages find these differences enriching to the relationship and their world view.

The aforementioned qualities contribute to the ethnic and cultural diversity that is found in America and which define the country. America, known as the land of opportunity, has always extended an invitation to the world to realize their dreams on her soil. This invitation extends out to those who are looking for love, and a world of tolerance, acceptance, equality, and justice. Many foreigners have married illegally for the sake of obtaining a national visa. United States Immigration Services have caught on to this trend and have made the process of obtaining an American visa more complex and expensive in order to weed out those who use marriage as a way to stay in the country. Authentically married couples will have a much easier time obtaining a visa and realizing their dreams in America.

There are many aspects and territories within a cross-cultural relationship, some of which could include: inter-racial marriage, shared faith and beliefs, language barriers, and cultural differences. For those seeking more information, they can find a wealth of information on the internet. Here are some other suggested readings:Cross-Cultural Marriages and the Church: Living the Global Neighborhood by J. Lawrence Driskill. Hope Publishing House (April 1995). ISBN-10: 0932727808, ISBN-13: 978-0932727800, and

Cross-Cultural Marriage: Identity and Choice edited by Rosemary Breger and Rosanna Hill. Berg Publishers (June 1, 1998). ISBN-10: 1859739687, ISBN-13: 978-1859739686.

It has been said that love is blind. This study shows that this could not be truer. What relationship does not come with its own set of challenges and victories? Cross-cultural marriages come with their own unique circumstances which should be examined carefully before entering into a serious engagement, such as marriage. An interested couple should be soberly honest to distinguish the appeal and mystique of foreign customs from the life-long commitments and responsibilities of marriage. Conflict is inevitable in any marriage. It is how we approach life's problems and each person's ability to move through them that will define their success in life or marriage, regardless of culture or environment.

Cultures are defined to give meaning to a group of people's environment. Most cultures can be defined with sets of moral and societal standards. The love that two beings feel for each other is another culture that transcends race and ethnicity. Relationships of mixed cultures have to make their microculture a thriving one that continues to create a larger culture of tolerance, diversity, and peace.


Adhopia, A. (Nov. 2002). Mixing it up with cross-cultural marriages. Toronto Star. Toronto, Ont. p. L.18.

Aguirre, B., Rogelio, S., & Hwang, S. (1995). Remarriage and intermarriage of Asians in the United States of America. Journal of Comparative Family Studies. Vol. 26(2), p. 207.

Alexander, E. (2007). For better or for worse: marriage across boundaries. Journal of Women's History. Vol. 19 (3); p. 213.

Baber, R. (Oct. 1937). A study of 325 mixed marriages. American Sociological Review. Vol. 2 (5), pp.705-716.

Coelho-Sousae, Marlena. (2009) Interracial couples find challenge and acceptance in modern society. Daily Titan. Retrieved online November 22, 2009 from acceptance-in modern-society

Lee, A. & J. (Sept. 2007). Korean military brides in New York, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies. Vol. 8 (3), p. 458-465.

Lichter, D. & Qian, Z. (Feb. 2007). Boundaries and marital assimilation: interpreting trends in racial and ethnic intermarriage. American Sociological Review. Vol. 72 (1), p. 68-94.

PBS. (1999). An American Love Story. Retrieved online November 22, 2009 from

Preservation Virginia. (2009). History of Jamestown: Pocahontas. Retrieved online November 11, 2009 from http://www/ id=26

Snipp, M. (Oct. 1997). Some observations about racial boundaries and the experiences of American Indians. Ethnic & Racial Studies. Vol. 20 (4), p. 667-689.

Tubbs, Carolyn Y. (2003). Interventions with interracial couples. Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy. The Haworth Press, Inc. United States

Supreme Court. (1967). Loving v. Virginia, 388, U.S. 1. Retrieved online June 1, 2009, from htt://

Peter Berv lives in Boulder, Colorado, with his wife, from Germany, where they practice cross-cultural understanding in their marriage. Together, they raise their one year-old daughter multi-lingually. Currently studying foundations of business in Axia College of the University of Phoenix, Peter Berv hopes to apply his business skills to his background in the healing arts.
Figure 1: Percent of Intermarriage Among Married Individuals,
Ages 20-34, 1990 and 2000

Intermarriage                 MEN          WOMEN
                          1990   2000   1990   2000
White                       3      4      3      4
AfricaN American            8     14      4      5
American Indian            59     57     61     59
Asian American             35     26     47     39
Hispanic                   27     20     27     20

Race/Ethnicity of Married Individuals, Ages 20-34

Note: Table made from bar graph.
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Author:Berv, Peter
Publication:Journal of African Children's and Youth Literature
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2010
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