Preserving culture and tradition is possible in interracial marriages, couples say

People in mixed unions have always faced many challenges. But some who spoke to CBC News for our Boldly Asian series say they work hard to incorporate their cultures into their relationships and teach their children to cherish their heritage.

GTA couples reflect on how they pass on their cultures to their children

When Kulbinder Saran Caldwell and Scott Caldwell got married, the couple made it a point to share the responsibility of reinforcing Sikh heritage into their children's lives.
When Kulbinder Saran Caldwell and Scott Caldwell got married, the couple made a point of sharing the responsibility to bring Sikh heritage into their children's lives. (Submitted by Scott Caldwell)

May is Asian Heritage Month. Boldly Asian is a CBC Toronto series shining a light on GTA changemakers who are pushing boundaries within their Asian Canadian communities and beyond.

Making a mixed marriage work takes effort, but many interracial couples in the GTA say it is always rewarding. 

Just ask Michelle Jobin and Tobias Wang.

Wang is Taiwanese-Canadian and Jobin was born and raised in Canada. Jobin says it's always been important to her to integrate Wang's cultural heritage into their union and in their child's life. 

But for Wang, his cultural identity wasn't always something he wanted to emphasize. 

"When I moved here, I rebelled against my culture. It was like I don't want anything to do with Chinese culture, because for me, it was hard," Wang said. "So I adopted the North American culture as fast as I could."

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It wasn't until they had their son, Archer, that his outlook changed. 

"The older you get, the more you realize how important … your roots are and your family is in terms of shaping your identity, your emotions," Wang said. 

Now he and Jobin make it a point to integrate Wang's cultural heritage into their son's upbringing by teaching him the language while he's young and celebrating special cultural days.

They've even put Archer in a Mandarin day school.

"Our son now has culturally so much being reinforced every single day into his life and his schooling," Jobin said.

"The kids will get dressed up in traditional dress and perform songs. And it's it's just really nice to see all of them learning about this facet of their culture.

Jobin says she sees the benefit of reinforcing Wang's cultural heritage. 

"Integrating the language and the culture is not necessarily the easiest thing to do all the time, because it is certainly extra for our son to be learning an entirely different language," she said. 

"It's a choice that we've made daily to continue to reinforce because we think it's incredibly important for him."

"I think I realized that it was my role to sort of celebrate both sides of [Wang's] heritage as much as possible. And I see it as my role to continue to do that, because I think having another language, understanding everything about ... your heritage is a gift. And [Archer's] life will be richer for it."

The most recent data on mixed unions in this country comes from 2011. Statistics Canada defines a mixed union as "a couple in which one spouse or partner belongs to a visible minority group and the other does not, as well as a couple in which the two spouses or partners belong to different visible minority groups." 

The data suggests Japanese people were more likely to be in a mixed relationship at the time it was gathered, while South Asians and Chinese people were least likely to have a spouse or partner from outside their group. 

Couple creates podcast about mixed marriages 

For Kulbinder Saran Caldwell and her husband Scott Caldwell, it's always been a no-brainer to integrate aspects of her Sikh heritage into their union. But she says they do it  in their own way. 

"That is really important for us to preserve the culture and the traditions in a new way. because I can only see them and pass them down in the way that I was taught them," said Saran Caldwell.

"It's the picking and choosing of the values and what you want to instill in the next generation that's really important."

Born and raised in British Columbia, Saran Caldwell says the way she brings her cultural heritage to her family is reflective of the way she grew up with it in Canada. 

"It was really important for me to be able to see how those kinds of customs and traditions are here so that I can teach my children that."

She and Caldwell say it's also important in a mixed marriage that both partners take part in teaching their family about each other's culture. Caldwell even learned some Punjabi so he could help communicate with Saran Caldwell's parents and help teach their two children some of the language. 

"It's about instilling culture and letting them know that it's about pride and identity," he said. 

It's one of the topics the couple discuss on their podcast, Generation Immigrant, a title they say encapsulates the idea of being born in one country to immigrant parents and treading the line between two cultures.

The focus of the podcast is on complex family relationships and the collision of cultures in first-generation families, blended families and mixed-race marriages.

"We've gotten more into talking about the issues of mixed-race marriage and raising kids and identity," Caldwell said.

"How do your kids identify and stuff like that? And how much culture does one parent put in?"

Find out what matters to your partner, expert says

Yasmeen Rafiq is a psychotherapist and registered social worker at Couples In Step, a GTA  agency that provides counselling for people in interracial and interfaith relationships, many of whom are from a South Asian background. 

She says managing expectations is important for any couple, but it comes with another layer of complexity in interracial couples. 

"It's really important to find out how your partner grew up and what was important to them. So asking about those traditions, getting exposed to them is such a great way to get into it as well."

She says for Asian families, the pressures of family dynamics and preserving cultural tenets can weigh heavily. 

"A lot of Asian families ... we really do pride ourselves on being close knit. And that element of family is very, very important to us," Rafiq explained.

"I think a lot of our parents, they put in a lot of work trying to maintain that and to keep that going. And part of marrying out of your culture [or] religion is that you may lose that family, that close knit family sense of community as well."

Yasmeen Rafiq is a psychotherapist and couples counsellor that works with couples who are in interfaith and interracial relationships. She says couples need to have healthy and honest discussions early on in their union to better understand what aspects of cultural identity do they want to integrate in their marriage and share with their children.
Yasmeen Rafiq, a psychotherapist and couples counsellor who works with people in interfaith and interracial relationships, says couples need to have healthy and honest discussions early on to understand what aspects of their cultures they want to integrate into their marriage and share with their children. (Submitted by Yasmeen Rafiq)

Rafiq says interracial and interfaith couples have to put in that extra effort to learn about each other and what's important to them. That helps them to understand what matters to their partners and how they want to raise their children. 

"I do think that there is an element of a bit more effort that's required on interracial and interfaith couples," Rafiq said. 

"But they come up with amazing versions and they come up with these beautiful ways that work for them. And it's amazing because it just shows how with the differences, they are able to find this beautiful common ground and be on the same page."