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By Diane Farr, Special to CNN

Actress Diane Farr poses for a family portrait with her husband, Seung Yong, and their three children.

Editor’s note: CNN’s Defining America project is exploring the stories behind the numbers to show how places are changing. This week, get to know more about your neighbors all across the country — how they live and love, what they believe in and how they came to call themselves Americans. The week will culminate with a Secret Supper in New York City, and Eatocracy invites you to participate online starting Monday July 11th at 6:30 p.m. ET. Diane Farr is most known for her work as an actress on “Californication”, “Numb3rs” and “Rescue Me.” Her second book, “Kissing Outside The Lines” has just been released.

(CNN) — I fell for “The Giant Korean” at a weekend-long destination wedding. I couldn’t yet pronounce either of his real names (Seung or Yong) and although his friends called him “Sing,” I stuck with the catch phrase my girlfriends and I had coined the first time I met him because, frankly, my nickname captured his presence better.

I had come around to a slight Americanization of his real name by the first time we exchanged “I love yous,” but it seemed of little consequence when Seung then added that I would never be welcome in his family’s home. Seung had been told, all his life, more or less, that he was not allowed to marry someone like me.

Pronunciation aside, it hadn’t occurred to me that Seung and I made a mismatched couple. Mixed-race yes, but I couldn’t fathom that my race could make me the “wrong kind of girl” for anyone.

Yes, it was white privilege that blinded me to the fact I might be the bottom of the barrel on someone else’s race card.

Perhaps even more so because I have been listening to the dialogue about how to make America more post-racial — mostly as it pertains to black and white culture — for so long that it never occurred to me that an Asian immigrant family might cry fowl when their son fell in love with an all-American girl like me.

But truthfully, I was blindsided for personal reasons, too. Years before this I had fought with my own mother over our family’s prejudices when it came to love.

I had more than one black boyfriend in my twenties, and a few others in shades between olive and dark brown. When my parents said that one of them shouldn’t be invited to our holiday table, I stopped showing up also.

That particular boyfriend and I only lasted six months, but I did not visit home for nearly two years until my mother and I agreed that unconditional love meant accepting anyone, of any race, who I chose to spend my life with.

I don’t think I took such a stance with my family because I am Joan of Arc incarnate. Rather, aside from this flaw, my parents are kind and generous people.

I knew their prejudices came from the ignorance of confusing economics, education and opportunity with culture. But they simultaneously taught me that I had a right to speak up for what I believed and to defend my choices.

I only had the gumption to fight them and eventually end their narrow-mindedness because they showed me so much love.

So I found it particularly saddening to be back in the same mess, 15 years later, dressed in different robes. Even though Seung Yong’s family is educated, well traveled and chose to raise their kids in the States. And even though, more to the point, Seung Yong was a grown man.

“You’ve never told your parents that you get to pick who you love?”

I thought this but I didn’t say it out loud. Not at first, anyway.

Instead, when he told me his parents would never let him be with a white girl, I stared into his eyes and smiled. Not because I was feeling his plight but because I’d become cautious of him.

This man I had woken up with earlier in the day now seemed like a stranger to me. Specifically, he seemed like someone of another culture that I didn’t know or understand. Which was in fact true, because as much as we had in common, I was completely unaware of what it meant to grow up Asian-American — both in his home and in the outside world.

But Seung kept talking and what he was saying didn’t allow me to recoil for too long. He wanted to be with me, no matter what. He had a plan for how he would address this issue with his parents and he wondered if I was willing to take the leap with him.

His words shut off the alarm bells in my head and I agreed to follow him into the racially slurred forest where we would attempt to change what his parents, and so many, say in private to their kids about a mixed-race marriage.

That turned out to be the most measured discussion Seung and I ever had about his family’s belief that marrying me might degrade them by watering down their culture or bloodline. Because it was the only one in which I stayed silent.

Using my words, gently and respectfully, in many, many, many subsequent conversations about how I felt did in fact lead Seung Yong and I to marry — with the full support of all our parents.

But it was only through continuous dialogue — at the dinner table with friends who could advise us, and using calm voices in the bedroom with one another, and keeping an open mind on the couch at the therapist’s office — that we were able to find a way to make our familial cultures meet in the middle at our mutual American one.

Seven years later and three half-Asian/half-Caucasian children deep, the discussion of race rarely comes up in our home. But only because we worked so hard to make sure the inconsistencies we were both taught in our parents’ homes about what kinds of people were worthy to love would never be a part of our home or life together.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Diane Farr.

 



  1. Yifeng on Tuesday 5, 2011

    DIANE, you are absolutely right. To that end, ROMIA, some questions for you:
    Do you believe in marrying for love…or for practicality? To make YOU happy, or to make OTHERS happy?
    Do you feel equally threatened or agitated when Asian women marry white men? If not, why the double standard?
    Why do you feel that as a Korean, that you can speak for all Koreans? You *know* that ALL Korean men have ulterior motives when they marry outside their race?? Come on now.

    I am taken aback, quite frankly, at how rude and righteous your tone is while projecting such narrow minded views on inter-racial marriage. What right do you have to declare someone’s marriage a fraud (this is what you essentially did when you said “Yes I do believe that [Ms. Farr's husband loves her because he wants to be white"]. Who are you to belittle someone’s marriage, and question the love they have for one another? Additionally, I was personally offended at your ridiculous assumption that “halfies” are destined to never learn the native language of their Korean fathers. Mind you, you can’t single out Koreans…your position on mixing races and slowly erasing one’s ethnic culture would apply to ALL races, would it not?Therefore, surely you must feel that Chinese men should not marry white women, or that Japanese men should not marry white women, and so on. I am an Asian woman, proud to say I was born in Taiwan. My “halfies” as you say, ARE learning Mandarin. It was important to me, but also to my white husband. My neighbor’s children, are half-Vietnamese…their 10 year old daughter is perfectly bi-lingual. My Korean girlfriend, and her “halfies”, communicate in Korean and English. How do you think it is appropriate to make such a ridiculous blanket statement, that “halfies” only speak English? My other point would be that it doesn’t really matter if my offspring speak Mandarin or not. It does not erase my heritage, or theirs.

    Nobody is asking you to change your views on inter-racial marriage. Fine, you feel it is appropriate to marry a fellow Korean. But don’t go around insulting others for being open-minded, and certainly don’t criticize them (and me!) for falling in love outside the lines.

  2. Jeff on Tuesday 5, 2011

    Over the years I have realized the most colorblind thing we have is our heart. I’ve enjoyed you on “Numbers” and hope your personal life is happy, your family is healthy and your marriage is long and fulfilling.

  3. Cathy on Tuesday 5, 2011

    Thanks for sharing your experiences, Diane. I can relate to your story on many levels. Even though I am half-Korean and half-white, members of my Korean family were in an uproar when my engagement to a white man was announced. It was actually my traditional Korean grandmother who came to my defense. I was the first grandchild to get married, and my Korean cousins have told me that I helped “pave the way.” Sixteen years later, our extended family is a blending of different cultures and backgrounds. And my Korean aunt- who was the most vocal about her disapproval of my marriage to a white man- tells me often how much she adores my husband.

  4. Diane Farr on Tuesday 5, 2011

    i love your comment Cathy because i think people were confused by my book when I am referencing my korean aunts as the sort of “antagonists.” it’s customary in many cultures that any elder can reprimand someone of the next generation, but i think Korean families have a very particular way of utilizing this to a parent’s advantage. I also found your comment really true because after all the uproar in picking a partner for marriage, it all seems like it was either posturing or that once married the outsider is actually like a whole new person. literally treated as if they were not the same person that was ostracized just moments ago. df

  5. julian on Tuesday 5, 2011

    I loved this article for many reasons, but I am unsure how I feel about the last paragraph.

    You wrote “the discussion of race rarely comes up in our home.” I am the child of an interracial relationship (Chinese and White-American) and my parents never spoke about race in our home. I think that this left me unprepared in certain respects for the virulent racism that I experience daily outside of my familial home. My parents never said “You will be mistreated because of your race,” and so when it happened I thought it was one person being bigoted instead of societal or systemic racism.

    I’m definitely not saying one should “scare” their children by talking about how awful racism is, but I think that talking to interracial children about race is one way to making space for them to ask questions later. It’s difficult navigating the world being interracial and having the support of your parents through that process is so critical to the development of a young person of colour.

    While I wouldn’t presume to tell you how to raise your children, in my experience it was incredibly damaging to never talk about racism and race. I really wish my parents had spent more time talking to me about racism and how it’s a construct, but also how it’s used to hurt people. My parents let racism be the invisible elephant in the room. While my home wasn’t racist, almost every space I have experienced outside that has been.

    Anyhow, thanks for sharing your experiences!

  6. Diane Farr on Tuesday 5, 2011

    Julian – Thanks for your very heartfelt and measured email with terrific advise. Race doesn’t come up in our house these days because my husband and I have talked about everything we possibly could have to say, in our lives so far, and our kids are really young. From the research I’ve done, boys and girls do not even start to see skin color for a few more years – which is so exciting to me because without any other comment about it from Mom or Dad, it’s really and truly is a non-started for our family. I do intend to talk about race as a social construct with them, and how their three cultures are so differnt (because their grandparents are so so different from one another it’s very easy to demonstrate) but we also hope to discuss how people use race, ethnicity and religon against each other in this country. I’m just enjoying this period of their lives when it has yet to come up. But my question for you is where did you feel the most racism as a kid? Was it in school? If so, was it from other kids of one of your racial backgrounds? and how old are you – I ask to see what decade we are talking about.
    Because remember I am also writing the second half of this book about raising bi-racial kids. Thank you so much for writing your experience. And I hope as an adult you are really getting to enjoy all your cultures now. DF

  7. Julian on Tuesday 5, 2011

    Hey Diane,

    Sorry it took so long for me to get back to you, I was checking back to see if more discussion had been raised and just saw your response.

    I’m pretty young, twenty-one years old. I’m mostly referring to the nineties and early 2000s, when I was between the ages of six and fifteen. The racism that I have experienced that stands out most in my mind was from when I was pretty young, grade school era. Lots of “go back to China/Korea/wherever you came from” and “Ching Chong Chinese” jokes. These jokes were always from people who self-identified as white. I’m pretty sure they were all mimicking things they’d heard from television and other people, but I would definitely say it was widespread and systemic and wasn’t just individual children. As I’ve gotten older it’s been more about systemic discrimination/racism. People won’t say things to my face, but they’ll make jokes about people of Asian descent’s sexualities, their accents, intelligence. Also, television and pop culture are rife with racism toward Asian people. It’s only recently that I’ve seen asian actors/actresses play key roles in US TV shows. And even then, it’s like one or two shows at most…

    Some of the kids my age who are of Asian descent seem to internalise this constant barrage of subtle racism, and end up repeating some of the things they hear and actually believing it. I hear jokes about Asian sexuality from Asian-American kids, and they seem to think there is some sort of universal truth to it… That’s what I think was most damaging, was hearing and seeing my friends internalise the constant racism. I’ve heard my little brother (he’s fifteen) make jokes about “Asian” accents, and I’ve had to call him out on that… So, I would say that the internalised racism has been one of the most damaging and awful things to happen to our communities.

    I’m glad to hear that you do talk to your kids about race, and that you have a plan on what you want to talk about. I think just making space for those conversations is always a step in the right direction.

    Cheers, J.

  8. jayz43 on Tuesday 5, 2011

    I am sure your in-laws have surely been won over by your kids, as have your parents, they look so adorable! Growing up in Hawaii with so many people of Asian descent, naturally we have quite a few “hapahaoles” (white + Asian). And most of them are darn good-looking, as are your three children. Your kids’ “exotic” look will be a plus growing up, instead of a haole or Asian. My Korean/haole high school girlfriend was the prettiest girl in the whole school.

    Another plus is the Korean food. I love Korean food and it’s one of the healthiest and most popular cuisines in Hawaii.

    In my opinion, Koreans can be snobby, cliquish and hot-tempered, as you probably already know. I hope your husband is not the “typical” domineering husband, portrayed in Korean dramas, he, he.

    I enjoy your writing and interviews.

  9. Amy feutz on Tuesday 5, 2011

    That is so touching, committed and brave. What a wonderful outcome