Assistant Insideout Editor
As adults in our university careers, our relationships with a significant other evolve into a more delicate and emotionally fragile debacle.
We mature from our roots as innocent children who find little love notes endearing into adults who seek companionship in more than interest in Pokemon and a shared love for recess.
But as we move into adulthood, intimate relationships now involve the incorporation of multiple facets of two individuals – often including core values of religion and culture.
For many couples, the questions of how to deal with the complexities of religion, culture and race in the context of a relationship is daunting. Is it possible for ideologies grounded in culture and religion to interconnect?
Canada, for all its stereotypes of hockey and winter, is diverse as any place in the world. Still, the stigma of interracial and interfaith relationships is hard to avoid even in our diverse, open society.
Derek and Mary Handley have been married for over 50 years. They originally met in Mexico, when Mary, a school teacher of Chinese and Mexican descent, provided Derek with directions while he was on vacation from Germany. They were married in 1961, and despite the stingier time period, skin colour was never an issue for the couple of their families.
“For a relationship to endure it means working the difficulties out if you have any. It has nothing to do with race... it’s like any other two human beings that get married,” says Mary.
“People go by personality so they don’t look so much at [the fact] that they’re of a different race...it has to click, there has to be something there, and so you look beyond race, and even religion,” says Derek, suggesting that he and his wife “were extremely open-minded for the time period and have created a lasting marriage based on common interests and personalities, not on skin colour.”
Although interfaith and interracial dating is less taboo then it was during the Handley marriage, the notion still sparks controversy and attention. Ankita Dubey, a fourth-year McMaster psychology student and Joti Dhillon, a Mohawk business graduate, have been in an interfaith relationship for over a year.
Dubey is Hindu and Joti is Sikh, both have similar Indian cultural traditions yet follow two vastly different religions. From the beginning, the couple explains that there were a lot of barriers and as the relationship grew to a more serious level, the problems only initially worsened. One of the biggest hindrances to their relationship was the secrecy of the relationship between Dhillon and his family.
With an underlying pressure to date a women from within the Sikh religion, Dhillon felt as though his family would not accept Dubey; however, as recently discovered, it seems Dhillon’s family wants only for him to be happy, even if that’s with someone of a different faith.
“We wouldn’t be able to go to that next step,” Dhillon says about overcoming the would-be barrier of family acceptance. Both insist that with this barrier overcome, they are much more emotionally and mentally present in this relationship
“I don’t think it’s important to identify with one label of a religion, it’s more important to get the values out of the religion,” says Dubey, noting that for an interfaith relationship to work at its best, open-mindedness and incorporating elements of each others’ faiths is essential. “we’ll always be dealing with interfaith issues, but it gives us something to explore.”
For Health Science students Emma Mauti and Paul Cheon, religious and cultural barriers are not an issue. Mauti is of Italian and German descent, though she comes from a typically Canadian family without any Italian or German traditions, while Cheon spent the first 10 years of his life in South Korea before coming to Canada with his family.
Both Mauti and Cheon say, however, that cultural barriers were never an issue. “It really enriches you and it’s always nice to learn about something new that I otherwise wouldn’t have known,” says Mauti.
“I want to see things from another perspective,” says Choi. Among those things is the way Mauti and Cheon have been able to explore issues of racism through their experiences.
“People don’t physically have to show it, but we know that we get some sort of attention when we go out in the streets and hold hands,” says Cheon.
For Mauti and Cheon, accepting each other’s culture isn’t nearly as big an issue as society’s acceptance of them as a couple. Mauti recalls a friend asking to see a picture of her boyfriend, and showing immediate surprise when seeing he wasn’t white. Mauti and Cheon have come to accept the fact that they might always have to fight barriers in terms of racial prejudices, however, they wish to instil a notion of genuine acceptance in which a relationship similar to theirs will be represented in society the same way as a standardized same-race relationship.
In our society, we’re often thrown off when couples deviate from the traditions and show off a public interfaith or interracial relationship. Even in Canada’s diverse cultural landscape, second glances are still cast toward couples that aren’t typically traditional.
Nicole Duquette, Interfaith Coordinator for Diversity Services at McMaster, says the success of interfaith relationships depend on communication and open-mindedness.
“People need to know that they don’t have to sacrifice their own beliefs in order to appreciate their partners.”
We must acknowledge that diversity within culture and religion truly enriches our society as it creates awareness and acceptance. Even if we are not in an interfaith or interracial relationship, we cultivate relationships with diverse individuals everyday—from co-workers to friends we are immersing ourselves in culture in the hopes that one day we’ll all become colour blind.