Matisse Yee still remembers how excited she was to tell her parents she had finally “met someone”, and then immediately adding the disclosure “but he’s not Chinese”.
- About one in three marriages registered in Australia are interracial
- Challanges of interracial marriages include different religions, habits and values
- Family resistance can be a hurdle for many intercultural couples
Matisse says her relationship with her Malaysian-Sri Lankan partner initially took her parents by surprise because interracial couples are uncommon in Kuala Lumpur, where they both lived before migrating to Australia in 2016.
“Of course, they were worried [and] asked ‘is he Malay?’,” she says.
She told her parents Vick Satgunasingam was Indian, before learning that he was actually Sri Lankan — an ethnic group regularly categorised with Indians in Malaysia.
“And my parents, they might have been shocked, but they didn’t say much,” she says.
“In Chinese families — in my family — we don’t actually share much about how we feel.
“We only [ask] ‘Have you eaten? Have you had a good sleep?'”
Matisse’s parents were initially surprised their daughter was dating someone who wasn’t Chinese. (Supplied)
The couple celebrated their marriage with a jubilant Hindu wedding as well as a traditional Chinese tea ceremony in 2014, and now live in Melbourne with their three-year-old daughter, Oriana.
Vick says despite the difference in their families’ religions — his family is Hindu and Matisse’s family follow Taoism — the only challenge he has with his parents in-law is the language barrier.
“The first time that I actually met her whole family was our first year together during the Lunar New Year,” he says.
“It was a bit of a shock in the sense that there was a lot of people there and I was probably the only one who wasn’t Chinese. However, they were very accepting.
“They could all speak English, even if they couldn’t, they tried very hard to communicate with me. So that gave me a feeling of warmth from the start.”
He adds there are also benefits to interracial marriages, one of which is learning about a different culture.
Matisse points out another commonly-known perk: cute babies.
“That’s the beauty of it, a hybrid of both Chinese and Sri Lankan … she’s really pretty and cute,” she says.
Vick Satgunasingam, Matisse Yee and their three-year-old daughter Oriana. (ABC News: Rudy De Santis)
The couple are part of a growing number of intercultural couples in Australia as the country becomes more ethnically diverse.
In 2018, about 32 per cent of registered marriages were of partners born in different countries, compared with 18 per cent in 2006, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
The proportion of marriages between two Australian-born people have also decreased over the past two decades — from 72.9 per cent in 2006, to 54 per cent in 2018.
‘I just fell in love with a man and he happened to be Indian’
Debbie Chen, from China’s eastern city of Nanjing, and Shannon Mathias, born in India’s Mumbai, both migrated to Australia with their families when they were young children.
They met through a mutual friend in Melbourne and together had three children after marrying in 2013.
Indian-Australian Shannon Mathias and Chinese-Australian Debbie Chen have been happily married for seven years. (Supplied)
Debbie says she has always been open-minded about marrying someone from a different background, but acknowledges not everyone is so accepting.
“I didn’t really see him as Indian. I just fell in love with a man and he happened to be Indian,” she says.
“When people first find out that I married an Indian, they are quick to judge, sometimes not so positively.
“And I think that goes to [show] that sort of prejudicial feelings we have, and everyone is guilty of it. I think I would be the same had I not married one myself.”
Shannon Mathias and Debbie Chen have a fraternal twin and a three-year-old son. (ABC News: Rudy De Santis)
Debbie, who recently gave birth to fraternal twins, says they want to raise their children to speak Mandarin and English, and would have also taught them Hindi if her husband spoke it.
In addition to “very good looking children”, she says other benefits of interracial marriages include having “good food from both sides”.
Marriage is not the union of two people, but two families
Betty married an Indian man but their marriage broke down due to differences in culture and parents’ disapproval. (ABC News: Jason Fang)
However, there are also many challenges that can break a marriage, particularly resistance from parents.
Betty, who does not want her surname published, arrived in Australia in her late 30s as an international student and fell in love with a fellow student from India.
Her parents refused to accept their relationship from the start to end, and were initially “quite shocked” because they didn’t think she would marry someone who wasn’t Chinese.
“Even at the end, [my parents] couldn’t not accept [the fact I was about to divorce] because they did not expect I would end up like that,” she says.
“It made us all quite stressed from the time we got married to the end of the marriage.
“Because marriage is not just about the couple themselves, but also about their families.”
She says her mother-in-law was also disappointed that she couldn’t bear a son, and her and her ex-husband’s differences range from their diets and habits to the size of their families.
While Debbie was brought up as an atheist, and her husband as a catholic, the couple shared similar family values.
“The only thing … which is probably a little bit different between us is the level of respect we give to elders,” Debbie says.
“In China, it’s almost like absolute respect; because they are older, you respect them, whereas he was brought up to have people earn their respect.
“And I liked his view of letting people earn their respect, so I’ve tried to copy that from him a little bit.”
‘Do you love him enough to leave your family?’
When Varan Freestone, an ethnic Indian from South Africa, moved to the NSW town of Port Macquarie after she married her husband in 1990, she was among the minority of people of colour.
She was also a trailblazer in her own family, being the first to marry someone from a different background.
Varan says while her parents and grandparents were supportive, it was “a shock” to the rest of her family although they eventually accepted it, too.
Rick Freestone, who has Aboriginal ancestry, recalls first setting his eyes on Varan at a nightclub on the Greek Island of Mykonos in 1989 and thinking she was “a knockout”.
He says he tapped her on the shoulders and asked if she would like to dance.
“Obviously, she must, for some reason, thought I was good enough to have a dance with, and it’s interesting, you know, how our lives revolve around just moments in time,” he says.
In a time before Facebook or other social media platforms, the couple kept in touch by writing letters to each other, twice a week.
Varan soon flew to Australia for a holiday and to see Rick, and 31 years later is married to him. However, she says the decision to move to a different country was not an easy one.
Varan’s mother had died by the time the couple decided to get married, and Rick wrote a letter to her father asking for his blessing to marry his daughter.
“So my dad called me and he just said, ‘How are you?’ And I said, ‘I’m fine’,” she says.
“Then he said to me, ‘Varan, I received the letter Rick sent to me’, and of course we both started crying because it was a huge decision for me in 1989 to leave my whole family to come and live in a country that I knew nothing of, except one person who was Rick.
“My dad asked me, ‘Do you love him?’ And I said, ‘Yes’.
“And he said: ‘Do you love him enough to leave your family? And I said, ‘Yes’.
“And you know, we both were in tears … it was a very difficult moment for both of us.”
Varan says her decision to move to Australia, leaving her dad behind in South Africa, was not an easy one. (ABC News: Chris Le Page)
During the long talk, Varan’s dad reminded her that marriage was a long-term commitment and gave her some “very good advice”.
“As long as I had the unconditional support of my family, that was the most important thing,” she says.
“So many Indians are divorcing Indians, so many Chinese are divorcing Chinese, so it’s not about your colour, or your religion, or whichever country you’ve come from.
“Love is something that’s special … love is blind.
“And I’ve experienced it for 31 years and hopefully a lot more years to come.”
Related story in Chinese: 相关中文文章
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