Toronto is probably the most culturally diverse city in the world. It teems with people of different colours and thousands of restaurants of various cuisines. Today, any combination of couples walking down the street does not even rate much of a second glance.
But, in the late sixties, when Venket and Letty Rao wed, an inter-racial union was perhaps a “novelty.” Marriage to a non-Filipino was often referred to as “halo-halo,” says Venket.
Originally from India, he met his future wife on campus while both were pursuing post-graduate studies at the University of Oregon in Portland. Although he was Hindu and she was Catholic, they had the same set of family and social values and hit it off right away.
Around the same time in Toronto, Norma Moya Solaria, newly married to up and coming lawyer Marvin Flancman, felt lingering looks cast her way at the family functions and Jewish celebrations they attended. “I felt as though I were in an aquarium.”
On the other hand, the same curiosity was palpable when she and Marv went to the Philippines for a visit. At a family gathering, a cousin asked, diffidently, “How does it feel to be married to a Canadian? “ to which she replied with a smile, “Just the same way you feel to be married to a Filipino.”
Indeed, love is blind and it is the person that matters whether Cebuano or Bicolano, or Indian or German. But it is not that simple. In addition to the “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” challenges. complications may arise due to different ethnicities and cultures. But, luckily, centuries of Spanish rule, the American occupation and intermittent visits from Chinese traders have made it almost natural for Filipinos to live with people of different ethnicities in a multi-cultural society like Canada.
Filipinos are very hospitable and easily socialize with people of other nationalities. And not a few of these friendships obviously end in serious relationships.
Apparently, in Europe, a mixed marriage refers to a union between citizens of different countries. Elsewhere, it describes a relationship between people of different races (Caucasian and visible minorities or two different visible minority groups). This may mean varied cultures, behavioural patterns, family dynamics, and religions which could spell trouble.
On the other hand, it can mean opportunity! It can open up a new world and change one’s outlook. One only has to have an open mind, a sense of adventure and an appreciation of differences.. But there are differences. With some tolerance and understanding, these are easily overcome. And knowing that there are differences, could it be that we try harder?
I married a German. We met at the University of Toronto during International Night. He is 6’2’, very fair and blond, and I am, of course brown and to put it nicely, petite – an odd couple - but people notice mostly that he is very tall. He is a Berliner and I grew up in Quezon City/Manila so our interests are quite urban. In many ways, I think we are alike.
Early in our marriage, my parents and his mother were visiting. We took them to the theatre one evening. During intermission, I noticed that his mother was holding a glass of bubbly and my parents were not! Knowing that my Mom would especially have enjoyed that, I asked, “Where are their drinks?” My dear husband replied, “I asked if I could get them a drink and they said, “No, it’s alright.” I was furious! “You should have asked them again. You should let them know that you really mean it!” To Peter who is very direct,” no” means NO and, often for us, “no” means, “ ask me again, or “maybe”.
I learned to be more straightforward. We are a very “nice” people and, as Peter’s mother observed, “It’s nice to be nice.” But, very often, we are too accommodating and say “yes” when we should say “no.” Thus, it comes as a surprise when the demure Filipina can stand her ground when necessary and push back. This often results in very lively debates in our household!
I grew up the eldest of seven children. I was always looked after, I never did any housework. I came and went as I pleased. Even after I had learned to drive, I always had a driver sitting beside me. My mother was adamant that if I did not find the right man, she’d rather I not marry, and stay home. Even after I got a job, I continued to live at home quite contentedly.
On the other hand, Peter was the only child of a widowed mother. He had summer jobs. He was taught to be self-reliant. As soon as he could, he supported himself and made his own way. He was very close to his mother and they were good friends. Family is very important to him, and he was only too happy to be welcomed to my big immediate family and hordes of relatives.
We had the traditional marriage, I stayed home and he went to work. My life became more structured. I took care of the children. I learned how to cook and keep house. It was very important to him that the children, armed with a good upbringing and a good education, would become self-reliant. They took summer jobs and learned how to manage their money. They moved to campus residences when they attended university. They so valued their independence they couldn’t wait to live on their own.
It will come as no surprise that our children are also “halo-halo,” married to non-Filipinos, and even non-Canadians. There are five nationalities in our family, five different languages. My eldest son is married to a Latvian and lives in Vancouver, my other son is married to an English Canadian and lives in Hong Kong, and my daughter is married to a Swede and lives in Stockholm. Our families remain very close, we visit each of them every year, we all get together for Christmas or a beach holiday every other year, they visit each other in between.
Our seven grandchildren, ages 7 – 13, are very good friends. While we would prefer to have them live closer, we accept that this is our world. After all, we started the whole thing!
My extended family and friends in the Philippines are now also Peter’s and his friends in Germany are also my friends. We visit Manila and Berlin every year. The Flancmans and the Raos also live in |Toronto, and surprise, surprise, some of their children are married to non-Filipinos, and live far away, as in California, Thailand and New Zealand. The mixed marriages of our children are also happily going strong. “Halo-halo” is not a novelty anymore.