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Published: June 3, 2011

IT was the morning after our first “I love you,” and I was filled with happiness on my way to breakfast with Seung Yong Chung. I couldn’t yet pronounce any of his three names better than many of you just did, but I called him “Sing,” like all his friends did.

For weeks, Seung and I had been spending our nights together, but in the transient city of Los Angeles, waking up next to someone (even regularly) is not a sign of commitment. Our mutual willingness to blow off work, however (or at least roll in late because we were lingering over breakfast), did make me feel certain that Seung would soon become my boyfriend.

As we entered the Santa Monica breakfast bar, I noticed a young, attractive Asian woman looking at our clasped hands with apparent displeasure. When she then looked up at Seung and scowled, I gave her a big bright smile as a gentle warning to refrain from girl-on-girl hating.

Once seated, I began to dissect my burrito, looking to expel anything that might singe my half-Irish, half-Italian and wholly American palate. While running my fork through the black beans, I asked my Korean-American suitor, “Do you intend to leave me for an Asian girl someday?”

Seung paused for just a moment too long.

As my smile began to wane, he finally replied, “I’m supposed to marry a Korean girl.”

My mind raced: What? Do you have another girlfriend? And was that her friend outside?

Seung added, “My parents have been clear about this my entire life.”

Your whole life? Does that mean that you, Seung Chung, a football-loving, former fraternity brother who grew up in Maryland, are to be part of an arranged marriage?

Maybe Seung could tell I was on the verge of rescinding my earlier “I love you,” so he jumped to the bottom line: “My parents are not going to easily accept this relationship. And I’m afraid they will never accept you.”

Finally the catastrophizing in my head stopped. Not because this news couldn’t become any worse, but because I saw in Seung’s face that he was willing to fight for me. I put down my fork and took Seung’s hand — to fight for us, too.

I told him that as a 35-year-old woman who had already made my way in the world, I didn’t need his parents to accept me. They lived far away, we were not financially dependent on them, and I could be respectful to them no matter what, because I respected the man they’d made.

Seung then smiled and said, “That’s good to know because I have a plan.”

He explained that, weeks before, he had begun a campaign to make his parents like, accept or at least not hate me, and to not disown him. This campaign included systematic leaks of information to his parents by family members who were sympathetic to his affection for someone outside of their race.

“Terrific strategy, honey,” I said, trying to hide how unsettled I felt. I also began to formulate my own strategy.

First, I felt the need to conduct some thinly veiled research, hoping to understand how Seung’s parents saw me. As casually as possible, I began to question my friends who were in interracial relationships, asking them questions like, “Were there any hoops you had to jump through with either of your parents when you first started dating outside your race, religion or culture?”

I asked people of all races and backgrounds. I had never realized how widespread the issue was and how many families had had that same hidden conversation with their children about who was worthy of their love and who, specifically, was not.

My parents were certainly guilty of this. When I began middle school, my mother told me that I could marry anyone I wanted: German, Irish, French or Jewish, as that was the world she knew in our part of New York. She then added, “No blacks and no Puerto Ricans, though, or you are out of my house.”

That may seem just as random and hurtful as “they will never accept you” had sounded to me over breakfast. But at least I knew the context of my mother’s racism. As a first-generation American, my mother had grown up in various Irish and Italian neighborhoods throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn, and the people she judged were from the bordering areas, where the population was generally poorer, less educated and less able to assimilate than her foreign-born parents had been back then, in the 1950s. It was people from these groups whom she regularly saw beating up her grandfather over groceries.

What I soon found out was that my friends of all colors, faiths and traditions had had a similar talking-to from their parents. Despite having been in this country for generations longer than mine, their parents, too, had been told there was a right and an “over my dead body” choice for love.

I continued asking questions: “And how much did your parents’ initial disapproval impact your decision to marry? And does it persist or affect your relationship now?”

By phone, over dinner and through e-mail, people’s honest responses started flooding in.

“I have to marry Jewish or I’m cut off,” my Jewish friend said.

“Cut off from what exactly?” I wondered aloud, knowing he had plenty of money of his own.

“Their love and support,” he answered.

“For my father, black was out of the question,” said my olive-skinned Persian friend with a wave of her hand, as if she were trying to push away the very idea of it.

Another friend of mixed Indian and German descent said, “I’m a half-breed, so my parents were fine with any race, but they preferred — really told me — not to marry an American.”

“While you were being raised in America?” I said, aghast.

She giggled at the ridiculousness of the statement, but nodded her head yes nonetheless.

“Well, I was only told that I couldn’t marry a Japanese man,” a Korean-American friend wrote by e-mail. “My parents would be disappointed if I brought home a white guy, but they’d eventually be fine with whomever, unless he was Japanese.”

What shocked me was less my peers’ admissions of their parents’ restrictions than their willingness to abide by them. Over the years, my mother and I had many heated discussions about her boundaries for love.

My parents only started seeing my perspective around the time I brought home my first black boyfriend, whom they liked despite themselves. Years later, when I became engaged to a Puerto Rican man, their prejudices had evaporated — so much so, in fact, that when our union did not last, my parents did not utter one ill word about his heritage or culture.

But these stories from my peers were different. They described boundaries set by parents who were mostly educated, progressive and democratic. Parents who taught their children that all people should be given the same opportunities in education, real estate, business and friendship, but who later, around the time their children hit puberty, started amending and tarnishing those values with an exception that went something along the lines of: “But you can’t love one of them.”

Even with a black man in the White House, it’s a fairy tale to claim we are a “post-racial” country. Not when young people still think they need to honor ugly and antiquated boundaries restricting which of their fellow Americans are worthy of their love and commitment, even if it’s only to conform to the previous generation’s biases. Because if we live by boundaries that don’t conform to our personal beliefs, aren’t we still furthering them?

THESE were questions I was asking of myself more than of my friends, because I was trying to decide if I should move forward with Seung Yong Chung — and his family. Knowing they were against me from the start, did I want to deal with their lifelong disapproval of us, or worse, of the mixed-race children we might someday have together?

At least in our case, I’m thankful to say, it turns out that people are easier to accept than an abstraction. In real life, Seung’s parents soon came to love me, and he and I made it way past that breakfast. In fact, I woke beside him again this morning, seven years later. We didn’t have any time for breakfast because we now have three kids to shuttle off to school before we rush off to work.

But sometimes, as I watch my husband and our children pile into the minivan, I worry, and it’s a worry that can keep me up at night: Will someone, some day, tell our half-Asian, half-Caucasian children that they are not an acceptable race to love?

Diane Farr, an actress and writer in Los Angeles, is the author of, “Kissing Outside the Lines: A True Story of Love and Race and Happily Ever After” (Seal Press).

  1. Nicole on Thursday 9, 2011

    Maymin told his parents about me. I was like “OK! What did they say?” He was like, “They’re interested in meeting me.” I haven’t met them yet. I’m not nervous of meeting them. Both of his parents are divorced, but both of them have remarried to other people. He hasn’t met mine yet (my parents are separated, not divorced). I told my parents about him and they were like “We wanna meet him”. We haven’t yet set a time table for that yet.

  2. Kes Cross on Thursday 9, 2011

    It isn’t just a racial thing, Diane. Appearances, no matter how much we say they don’t, matter. My beautiful, BRILLIANT husband looks like your typical biker – full ZZ-Top beard down to his belly, long hair pulled back in a ponytail and a permanent smell of 15-50 engine oil ‘pour homme’. He lives in jeans and tee-shirts that look like teabags they have that many welding burn holes in them. So the natural assumption when people first meet him is that he is your average, knuckle-dragging neanderthal that probably eats babies (in fact he has had the whole, ‘mother pulling her children away from the nasty biker’ thing happen to him more than once. I damn near slapped the cow!)

    But I know him for who he really is. A brilliant man who’s engineering and computer programming abilities are ‘Charlie Eppes’ standard. He can discuss scientific method on an equal footing with my father, who is one of the world’s leading environmental scientists, programme just about any computer you care to mention (albeit with some seriously colourful language) and completely rebuild a buggered washing machine from the ground up. Mind you, he hasn’t got a clue how much powder to put in said washing machine…

    We all have our preconceptions, biased world views and opinions that are based on nothing but gut instinct and how we see the world and its occupants, and this is usually influenced by our family upbringing. I went out with an Arab boyfriend once and his family believed that he was bringing dishonour on the family by dating a white woman. He was so influenced by their opinion that he broke the relationship off. I wasn’t too bothered to be honest – if it mattered that much to him then that was entirely his decision. Besides, I would have never met my wonderful CJ if I had insisted that he do the whole, ‘it’s me or the family’ choice thing. And when all’s said and done, the only two people who can decide what really matters is the two people in the middle of the relationship. I’m chuffed to see that you and Seung have the strength and intelligence to realise that, and that the result is a loving relationship with three cracking anklebiters to boot! Good on ya, Di!

  3. Candy O'Donnell on Thursday 9, 2011

    It’s sad that our upbringing has so many contracts, walls, and don’ts to them. I was raised in a Native American home, so many races were off limits because of what occurred with the Native people. I ended up marrying a half Irish/half Portuguese, and my adoptive father loved him from the start, so something those feelings/agitations do change. ;)

  4. [...] the racism inspiring such laws and punishments lives on in many communities. As Diane Farr put it recently, some of us continue [...]

  5. Diane Farr on Thursday 9, 2011

    i have seen some wonderful responses spread out on the site in response to the Modern Love piece. this was kindly forwarded to me by the editor at the paper.
    “I read the article “Bringing Home the Wrong Race” in N.Y.Times sunday paper when my wife and I returnd from Madrid.
    Ms. Diane Farr made the right choice about her mate from the “wrong race”. This has a tremendous population genetics implications in that before long (100 years) the U.S. is going to be a heterogeneous population – more like Cuba. The Japanese is a classic example on the opposite, where over the years the population had become very homogeneous – moslty because of a hateful concept of “purity of race”, which biologically is not good due to lack of heterosis. When my wife and I got married, almost all her relatives (British Isles origin) were so worried about my dark skin than anything else. Strangeley enough, none of them could explain what their fears were; to cover up their ignorace, they use the usual refrain as “the kids wont be accepted” by society. This was in the American south (Tennessee). We are still married after more than four decades with two children, a doctor and a lawyer, and two grandkids. If anybody tells you racism is dead in the U.S., either they are lying or they are plain dumb, but some of us are willing to fight the hypocrites and the bigots every day.
    S.Kris Ballal

  6. Diane Farr on Thursday 9, 2011

    this was also sent from a friend who also writes for NYTimes:

    “you smart cookie Farr. Not a fortune cookie for a Korean American man, but a smart one nonetheless.”

    this friend does not have an accent when he talking. just typing

  7. amanda on Thursday 9, 2011

    I’m really glad you are getting this message out. So many people assume the problem lies with the couple today because they wrongly believe there is wide acceptance for multiethnic couples. I believe, like you that it is getting better, but we still have a long way to travel and I live on the west coast also. I can only imagine what couples in smaller cities, in the middle of this country must still face both at home and at large.

  8. Michelle on Thursday 9, 2011

    I loved your article. I wouldn’t worry about your biracial kids being accepted. America’s demographics are changing – especially in California. This state will have many biracial children in the next 30 years. It sounds cliche, but I truly believe social progress does happen and I wouldn’t worry too much about prejudice against your kids.

  9. Diane Farr on Thursday 9, 2011

    thanks Michelle. I worry less every day and every passing year.

  10. Diane Farr on Thursday 9, 2011

    i wonder about all the same things Amanda! df

  11. Elizabeth on Thursday 9, 2011

    There is a whole series running in the Times right now about mixed race relationships. You’ve probably seen it, but just in case.