Our today´s featured intercultural couple are Alexandra & Madhavan. They reside in Vancouver, BC, Canada and they manage a fashion business. They´re blessed with their first child, 22 months old Maya Josephine, and a dog, Ziggy. They´ve been together for 8.5 years and married for almost 3 years. Alex shares about what happens to a Canadian girl when she becomes a Tamil Iyengar wife at her blog, Madh-Mama.
What makes your marriage offbeat?
We are interracial AND interfaith. I am Canadian (of Russian, French, and Irish decent) and Madhavan is Indian – he is half Tamil and half Telugu.
In terms of religion, Madhavan is a Hindu Iyengar, and I am a non-practicing Catholic.
So we really are a diverse mix!
What made you end up in an interracial/interfaith marriage? What was your motivation in deciding to marry someone of different culture or faith?
True love knows no color, and it was not even a factor in my choice to marry him. My soul mate found me – and he just so happened to be Indian!
Tell us about the wedding. Did your different religious and cultural background affect how you planned the wedding?
Planning the wedding was a little difficult, because each culture does it a different way. So, we decided to take the easy route – we had THREE wedding celebrations! It was amazing.
The first one was a Hindu wedding at a local Mahalakshmi temple, with just us and our immediate family. The specific date and time was picked by our family astrologer as per Indian customs.
The second wedding we had was a month later, and it was more of a romantic non-denominational ceremony that celebrated our love. We had it at my parent’s house in their front yard. We only invited 50 people, but 100 people ended up showing up! And we all danced until after midnight!
Our third wedding celebration was a month after that – in India itself. We had a wedding reception in my husband’s city of Hyderabad where my husband’s relatives formally welcomed us into the family. About 150 people attended that one.
So….we basically got married for three straight months!
What are your biggest challenges and how do you solve them?
In the beginning of our relationship, it was communication. Culturally, we have different styles of communication. And not to mention, men and women communicate differently. But after 8 years, we know each other well enough to understand the rhythms in which we communicate. And we have both met each other halfway – my husband has learned to communicate with me more, and I have learned to back off when he needs space.
I would have to say the biggest challenge is the negativity we get from other people. Ignorant people say all kinds of weird things, just because they can’t imagine that people who come from two different backgrounds could be happy. Not to mention, we are both well-dressed and have lots of tattoos. So people certainly stare! But the fact is that the negativity toward us is an external problem, and we usually just laugh about it because it means nothing to us – although it is initially unpleasant to experience.
What compromises are required in order to make your marriage work?
I think our marriage works because we both embrace each other’s cultures. It happened in a natural way. We live in Canada now, but we go back to India at every opportunity. I have attempted to learn his languages, and I can follow a conversation in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi. I am hoping to learn more as we teach our daughter, as learning a language is a continual process.
Another compromise was food. My husband is a strict vegetarian (no egg or yogurt) and he prefers that I do not cook non-vegetarian food in our home, so I respect that. I eat some non-vegetarian occasionally when we go out, but not that often.
We are both very family oriented individuals, so from the beginning it was important to us for our families to be close as well. This requires compromise on both sides and there should be no feelings of competition – we are all one big family. I wholly believe in the Indian mentality that a marriage is the marriage of our families too.
Are there any marital issues that come up due to different religious background? How do you address them?
We respect all religions and are very open-minded, so we have not had any problems.
Did you ever encounter people who frown upon interracial marriage? How did you deal with them?
We have had a few awful experiences – you just never expect them. One time when we were at a government office (before we were married), one of the people working there shouted at us and called me an expletive and said that Madhavan would never marry me. We were just trying to obtain a document that we needed to immigrate, but of course, the person could not keep their personal opinions to themselves!
Another time, when I was 5 months pregnant, we were at our favorite Indian restaurant and the couple sitting beside us was talking about us the whole time in Tamil, saying that they “didn’t understand how we could function with so many cultural differences” (I think it was on that day that I realized I could understand Tamil).
For some reason, just because we are of different cultures, ignorant people just can’t believe that we’d get married. I have noticed we have had much less problems with other people since we had our child – because our daughter is literally a symbol of our family and our love.
I feel that this mentality will improve over time as the number of intercultural marriages is increasing. Still, there are only 7% of Indian-born males who marry white women, so we are very much a minority.
How did your in-laws and extended families from each side react to your interracial marriage? Some in-laws are committed to their cultural identity and can’t appreciate foreign culture therefore they become critical towards their daughter/son in-law. Did you experience any of these issues?
I am the first foreigner in my Indian family, and only the third love marriage. My in-laws were very open-minded, but my mother-in-law was concerned about what other people would think and if she’d get bullied by the more conservative family members.
I also traveled to India as a girlfriend twice over a period of 6 years before we got married, so I think a lot of the relatives thought I was just a phase and that we would never make it to the altar.
I have a deep respect for Indian customs and culture – it is something I am very interested in learning about, so his family has really appreciated that. Still, there are people who expect us to split up, because “divorce is so much in Western culture”, but I am happy to prove those people wrong over time!
What are the benefits of an interracial marriage?
Over the years, we have learned so much about our respective cultures from each other – and both our families too. We have a deep appreciation for each other’s cultures…and plus, we never have a boring moment! I feel our lives our more celebratory in general with the integration of both cultures. In one month we can celebrate so many festivals!
What are the things that you learned about each other’s culture? How does learning about each other culture benefit your relationship?
I can’t stress enough how important it is. Learning about my husband’s culture has helped me understand a part of him and where he comes from. He has equally learned about my culture and I greatly appreciate it.
Does cultural difference affect how you raise and discipline your child/ren? In what way?
In child-rearing, we try to find a middle ground between both cultures, but at the end of the day, we will do things differently as individuals. We don’t have to do things the same – like feeding (my husband likes to hand-feed our daughter and I like to teach her to feed herself). We are both consistent with discipline and we believe that she should pursue whatever she is interested in.
What’s your favorite way of spending time together?
We have so many similar interests – we love to go for walks in nature and by the beach, we love to photograph and explore, we love to try new cuisines at restaurants, and we love to see movies together. My husband is the better cook, so sometimes we do “Sunday night cooking lessons” where he teaches me how to cook new dishes. It is a nice bonding experience!
What are your secrets in keeping the romance alive?
Spending quality one-on-one time together, going out on date nights, and doing things that are out of the ordinary! I think it’s really important to be kind to your spouse on a daily basis and talk to each other with supportive, loving words. No matter what external stresses there are, you should find solace in your relationship.
What advice would you give to those who are planning for or are new to an interracial/interfaith marriage? Would you recommend interfaith marriage?
I can’t speak highly enough about intercultural relationships. I hope one day before I die, at least half the population will be intercultural love! Uniting our cultures has greatly benefited both our families. It has redefined our world, in the best way. And our daughter has the best of both worlds!
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- American-Indian Intercultural Marriage – Older Wife, Younger Husband, and a Love That Overcomes
- American Wife-Indian Husband Intercultural Marriage – Open Communication Is Key
- Lessons from My (Failed) Cross-Cultural Marriage
- Ghanaian-Chinese Intercultural Marriage – Challenges Are Easier Solved if You Find the Right Person