China’s improved international image and more Chinese immigrants in the US create a trend of American-born Chinese marrying within their race

By Zhang Yihua Source:Global Times Published: 2016/11/28 18:53:39

ABCs return to their roots by marrying Chinese or people of Chinese descent. Photo: IC

ABCs return to their roots by marrying Chinese or people of Chinese descent. Photo: IC

When Mia Song, 31, was a college student in New York, she never thought that she would marry a Chinese.

"Most of my American-born Chinese (ABC) friends had white boyfriends or girlfriends," she said. "It seemed that it was just the way it was supposed to work in my friend circles."

However, in recent years, she noticed that most of her ABC friends on Facebook or Twitter had Chinese spouses. Song married her husband who hails from Ji'nan, Shandong Province two years ago.

Born in California after her Chinese grandparents immigrated to the US, Song said she did not specifically look for a Chinese boyfriend but that she gradually realized the many benefits of marrying a man of Chinese descent.

Song is among the many ABCs who marry or look for potential spouses within their race. Census data released by the Pew Research Center in February 2012 found that the percentage of US-born Asian-American newlyweds who married someone of a different race dropped by almost 10 percent between 2008 and 2010 as more of them are marrying within their community.

According to a March 2012 New York Times article, a surge in immigration from Asia over the last three decades may be responsible for the increase, as it gives young people more choices of marriage partners among Asian-Americans.

More ABCs are beginning to choose Chinese or people of Chinese origin as their ideal romantic partners because of their common language and cultural advantages. Experts say that an improved international image of China and more Chinese immigrants in the US are responsible for the trend.

Linguistic and cultural advantages are the main reasons ABCs choose Chinese partners. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Linguistic and cultural advantages are the main reasons ABCs choose Chinese partners. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Language and culture

Song gave birth to a baby boy named Lucas 18 months ago, and she and her husband are teaching the child English and Chinese at the same time.

She conceded that she probably would not be teaching her kid Chinese if her husband had not been fluent in the language, because she felt more comfortable speaking in English.

She was happy when Lucas started to say some simple expressions in Chinese because mastery of the language would make her son more competitive in the future.

When she heard on the news that Donald Trump's granddaughter was also learning Chinese, she became more confident that teaching Lucas Chinese was a right thing to do.

"Trump's granddaughter learns the language from a hired nanny. Lucas has the advantage of learning from his father," she said.

Song and her husband are expecting their second child. They have already decided to teach him or her to be bilingual.

Song added that her grasp of Chinese was also improving linguistically, as her husband sometimes spoke to her in Chinese and expected her to reply in the same language.

"He would also correct me if I made mistakes," she said. "My parents and grandparents were happy to see that I could speak better Chinese."

Besides language, she said that her husband gave her a deeper understanding of some Chinese traditions.

"My parents, as second-generation immigrants, did not have much knowledge of Chinese traditions, which had been a regret of mine because I am ethnically Chinese after all," she said. "The good thing is, my husband knows a lot and thus can enlighten me."

She took red eggs and red envelopes as examples. From her husband, she not only learned about the customs per se but also got to understand why red egg celebrations are often held for newborn babies and why red envelopes are exchanged with relatives and friends on Chinese New Year.

She conceded that some of the traditions could be easily found online but said the impersonal nature of searching on the Internet made her less and less interested over time.

Song said although her husband was not born in or grew up in the US, she never had trouble communicating with him.

"On the contrary, the differences between us made it easier for us to see the shining points in the other and thus maintain our mutual attraction," she said.

Mutual understanding

For 26-year-old Dan Chan, a Massachusetts-born whose Chinese parents moved to the US several decades ago, the main reason he put Chinese girls at the top of his dating list was his mother. She wanted a Chinese daughter-in-law.

When he was little, his mother said that she had three hopes for him - he should attend one of the famous universities in the US, have a decent and well-paid job and marry a good Chinese girl.

Having achieved the previous two by graduating from Yale University and becoming a lawyer, Chan was initially hesitant about meeting his mom's third wish. He did not give in until he found out the reasons behind her wish.

He said one of the major reasons his mother wanted a Chinese daughter-in-law was that she would like to incorporate Chinese culture into his and his kids' lives.

"My mom only moved to the US because my dad was transferred to the US division of the company he worked for," he said. "She has deep feelings for Chinese culture."

Another reason was that his mother believed it would be difficult for her to communicate with a woman who is from a different cultural background on issues like the way to raise her future grandchildren and maybe how best to communicate with Chan.

Chan finally saw her point. His mother's fear that there might be miscommunication between himself and a Western wife was not unfounded.

"Deep down, I still could not accept some of the concepts that were deemed very Western although I was born in the US," he said. "After all, I was not completely raised in the Western way."

Tina Li, 32, a manager at a large Chicago-based company, was born in Denver, Colorado. She married William Qi, her Florida-born Chinese husband, in 2015.

Li never dated a man of Chinese descent in college because she was afraid that their different background would make it harder for them to communicate.

However, after she dated several white men, she realized that some of them only dated her because they liked Asian girls.

"They did not really understand me as a person," she said.

Whenever she brought her white exes home, they always acted shocked when she poured water or tea for her parents and handed cups or dishes to them with both hands. Their reaction made her uncomfortable.

"That was just how I performed my role as a daughter, but white guys did not understand that," she said.

Li then began to realize that people who had a better understanding of the culture might be ideal for her.

"We have a similar background, and it was also more likely that he, with Chinese parents or grandparents, would understand my behavior, which leans more toward Chinese tradition," she said.

It turned out she was right. Her husband instinctively understood her behavior toward her parents and treated them with the same respect.

Also, with little explanation to her husband, Li wore a cheongsam, a traditional Chinese dress, instead of a white wedding gown on their wedding day, and he did not hesitate to say yes when she asked whether it would be okay for her parents to live with them for a period.

"It would not have been that easy if I had married an American," she said.

A change in attitude

Song said a major reason she mostly dated white men was that they, compared to the Chinese in the US, enjoyed higher social status and dating or marrying them was deemed as a wise choice.

However, in recent years, as China's economic growth raises its international profile, the social status of overseas Chinese has greatly improved.

"Chinese were no longer seen as a less ideal romantic partner than whites," she said. "And I began to go out with Chinese guys."

Liu Yun, a sociologist in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, who collaborated in a study on ABC marriages about two years ago, said that more overseas Chinese have started to choose Chinese or people of Chinese origin because of China's growing international image.

"Chinese were less likely to be considered inferior in many countries," she said.

Another reason, she said, was the fact that there were increasingly more Chinese immigrants to the US, the number of whom grew by millions in recent decades, which contributed to a larger pool of marriage partners.

"Some ABCs used to date white men because that was what was available to them, but now, dating other Chinese has become a more practical option," she said.

The immigrants brought language and culture along with them and reinforced the culture in the US, leading to the ABCs' growing interest in them.

Song said she felt grateful that her Chinese husband was, in some ways, preserving her identity as a person of Chinese descent linguistically and culturally.

"Although I was born and grew up in the US, Chinese genes are still in my blood," she said. "Marrying him was such a good decision."

Newspaper headline: ABC marriages


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