Mixed Race Unions: The new power couples

by Faiza Zia Khan on March 25, 2010

A study of 16 ethnic groups in Canada has discovered that marrying outside of ethnic lines means better pay and more power.

The study completed by Leger Marketing Poll for the Association of Canadian Studies in March 2005 demonstrates mixed exogamous couples command substantially better incomes than their non-mixed endogenous union counterparts.

According to latest figures released on April 20, 2010 by a Statistics Canada study based on the 2006 census about 4 per cent of all couples in Canada are mixed unions. The reasons for these results might rest in diversity and access to different communities which could create a completely more complicated understanding of self.

“I think I make better Chicken Korma Curry than my wife. She says I am more at ease in following her cultural traditions than she is. Honestly I never felt I had the transitional phase of adapting, it just fell into place,” says Jerry Chan, an accountant at a Vancouver firm. He met his wife Fatima Ahmad, who has a different ethnic background, at a fund raiser for a local charity.

According to the 2006 Statistics Canada census, 5.9 per cent of married and common law couples in British Columbia are mixed race unions making it the province with the highest percentage of mixed unions in the country, higher than the national average of 3.9 per cent. Trailing in second and third place respectively are Ontario (4.6 per cent) and  Alberta (4.2 per cent).

Once prohibited through legislative measures and looked upon as taboo through social norms mixed marriages are a growing trend in BC.

Does the Vancouver born Chan think he fared better financially, by marrying outside his ethnic group?

“Absolutely, we both enjoy six figure incomes. I don’t think I shared so many commonalities with any girl till the time I met Fatima. My parents emigrated from Mainland China and were slightly surprised when I informed them of my decision. But they were happy to see I found the right person.”

Ahmad’s family initially questioned her decision to marry Chan.

“Jerry picked up the language, the jokes and traditions so quickly that they [the parents] feel he is more the son then I am the daughter of the family. Now they think we’re a heavenly match made in Metro Vancouver,” says Ahmad with a laugh.

Mixed race unions not unusual for BC

This is not surprising as BC has a long history of interracial mingling University of British Columbia sociology professor Renisa Mawani’s work on the history of mixed race unions in the province Colonial Proximities: Crossracial encounters and Jurdicial Truths in British Columbia 1871-1921 examines how mixed unions are not a new phenomenon but that society’s view of them has evolved. She traces the history of how mixed race peoples treated as a threat to pure race are now considered a successful part of a multicultural society.

For example, the merging of two cultures brings a unique understanding of the institution of marriages and unions. Even the ceremonies become more vibrant.

“Anytime I hear the couple is from two different cultures it gets me excited as there is room to get even more creative. The more diverse the cultures the more interesting the ceremony,” says Angela Girard, a wedding planner at Reflection Events, Vancouver.

Girard says there is no ‘one glove fits all’ rule available for mixed race wedding ceremonies. Does she find it is easy to bring everyone together on common ground?

“There are rarely occasions when I have run into an impasse. The whole marriage scene is about love and compromise. If the [couple] can get past the first step amicably the path for the future will be easier,” Girard says.

According to another study by Leger Marketing Poll for the ACS 74 per cent of the respondents would not oppose their children marrying outside the racial group, compared to only 14 per cent who were resistant to mixed marriages.

“Our daughter will have a choice of growing up as a whatever she may choose to be,” says Cinnamon Bhayani , a new mother. Bhayani, a Metis French Canadian, is married to Kenyan Galib Bhayani whose family background is Ismaili. The two met while they were working at the Vancouver International Airport (YVR) in Richmond.

Ethnicity was never an issue for the Bhayanis. They had other commonalities to consider in their decision to solemnize this union such as their love for photography and travelling.

“Galib showed me these photos of the Galapagos Islands that he took on a visit there that were breath taking. This drew me to him as we had similar interests. It started as a friendship at first.”

Both families were very supportive of the union.

Is love enough to conquer all battles?

“Absolutely not,” says Danielle Wong, a Vancouver mother of two daughters both with partners outside their racial group.

“My eldest married a Canadian of East-Indian descent. They met while they working both freshly out of University. Love conquered all but not the little things such as deciding menu items on a combined family dinner. It took a lot of adjustments for each,” Wong says.

The younger daughter is married to a psychiatrist whose parents emigrated to Canada from the Philippines??? . They met in university.

Wong says she is proud of what her daughters have achieved. One daughter is a beauty consultant and her son-in-law is a doctor working in Vancouver, They live affluent lives and have fulfilled their dream by overcoming the mixed marriage hurdles.

For Ahmad “, As long as your partner has the right personality traits – colour, gender, race or culture fade away. The only things that matter are ambitions, passion and the urge to live life to the fullest with the one person you desire to be with.”

-Faiza Zia Khan,  UBC Graduate School of Journalism, 2010

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