DALLAS--The mere mention of Anita Mago's boyfriend sets her parents on edge and makes for an altogether awkward moment. Her parents would prefer she focus on her studies and not date. And the 20-year- old, who was raised in the United States, says she has adjusted her dating life in the wake of cultural differences between her and her Indian parents. "They aren't really comfortable with the dating thing," she says. "They don't want to encourage it. They just want to ignore it, like it's not there." Within any family, the generation gap adds fuel to many a parent-child disagreement. But American-raised daughters of immigrant parents deal with expectations their native counterparts don't expectations that, as much as they resist them, affect their dating lives. Anita says she thinks she has an idea of what her parents expect for her in the future. "They want me to, of course, finish my education before I get married," says the third-year University of Texas at Austin student. "They want it to be someone preferably from the same part of India, who's Hindu, whose family is well- off." Some parents raised in other cultures often seek qualities in their children's suitors that could benefit the family as a whole, says Steven Heine, an assistant professor of cultural psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. Some families, he says, are "looking for economic stability and someone who can bring honor to the family name." Suzie Disla, originally from Haiti, found herself in a similar situation with her parents many years ago. During her last years in high school, which she completed in New York, they often tried to pair her with men who were, above all, well-situated financially.
She ended up meeting and marrying her husband on her own terms. Still, after the couple's city hall ceremony, her parents still forbade her from seeing him alone in public until a church wedding. "I went once with him ... (to) a movie and to visit his family," she says. "My mom was so furious. She told me to move out. It was her tradition, I cannot blame her." Common among all parents is their concern when their children do things differently than they did dating included. First, you naturally assume that your culture's way of doing things is good and natural," Heine says. "Secondly, I think that becomes all the more so when your are a minority you kind of become threatened." One move that is often perceived as a threat among bicultural families is when members of the second, American-bred generation date outside their culture. Anita says that, a few years ago, she might have considered going out with a young non-Indian man, but she concluded that staying within her culture creates fewer complications. An important lesson came when she witnessed how her family reacted to her brother dating a non-Indian. ``It kind of made me a little more wary of not dating an Indian person, just because it's easier to not have to go through that,'' she says. Anita says in the end, dating within her culture is the best decision for her. ``I want someone who shares my culture, because it's easier ... (for them) to understand my life. It's kind of nice to relate to someone in that way. ... You want to be able to share the same background, for your families to get along with each other.''
Xochitl Plascencia, a 24-year-old social worker, asked her parents how they would feel about her dating a non-Mexican person, which she has before. But she learned when her older sister dated and married a white man that the race of whomever she dates didn't matter to her parents. ``They don't tell me, `OK, you have to date a person of the same race,''' says Xochitl, who is Mexican-born and American-raised. ``And when I have dated within my own race, they don't express concern, either. ... They look past (race)." Her parents' only requirement is that her date come to their home to meet them, says Xochitl, who lives with her parents. Suzie says her parents had the same rule for her potential suitors. She tries to uphold it for her daughters, even though it's rarely followed. ``They will not bring anyone here because ... maybe they don't want me to question that person too much,'' Suzie says. ``I would like to know the person. Especially, I would like to know (their) families. It's very important.'' But like Anita, Suzie's oldest daughter, Frances, 24, tries to keep a distance between her dates and her parents. In her case, it's an attempt to maintain privacy. Mother and daughter both say Frances tries to get around Suzie's rule if she's dating someone. ``They get upset because I don't bring him home,'' Frances says. ``They intimidate him. You don't want to scare someone away.'' Suzie says she has long figured out Frances' way of keeping a tight lid on her dating life.
``They always say it's not serious. When I say, `Why don't you bring your friends here,' they say, `Mommy, you criticize people,''' Suzie says. ``I know, yes, I am overprotective. I am. I do have a tendency to criticize people, I do.'' Cultural and age gaps explain the difference in opinion, Heine suggests. People who have grown up in different cultural backgrounds are simply going to perceive others in different ways, he adds. ``Every family has a generation gap,'' Heine says. ``But when you're talking about parents not only 30 years older than kids, but (also) coming from a different culture with very different ideas such as what is a way to live a very good life,'' the children are caught between two ways of life, struggling to find themselves. Dating and relationships are some of the main areas where the generation and culture gaps between parents and children come into play in a big way, he says. Many children of foreign parents often find themselves explaining the differences in rules and rituals to their American friends. And when the children reach a certain age, their parents' dating and relationship guidelines often top the list of things to clarify. ``It's a lot easier to talk to friends of your culture, because you don't have to explain,'' Anita says. ``To people outside your culture, it's just crazy to them.'' Another point of contention among immigrant parents is the living arrangements of their single daughters. Certainly, every parent harbors concerns when their children leave the nest. But in some cultures, young unmarried women living outside their parents' home is frowned upon, perhaps because it is considered a parent's duty to support a daughter until she is married.
Suzie, who sometimes accompanies her husband on overseas business relocations, recalls when Frances once approached her about moving out. ``If I'm living here (in the area), I don't want that,'' Suzie explains. ``Most of the time, their friends tell them, `She's too strict, you need to get free from her.''' Still, most parents want their daughters to earn an education, carve themselves a professional niche and become self-sufficient before marriage. ``I would prefer for them to finish school work, have their own savings, and then they can think about marriage,'' Suzie says. ``Long time ago, people married thinking their husband can (take) care of them. No way. You've got to be able to (take) care of your own self.'' Xochitl says her parents have also stressed the importance of completing her education and have been supportive of her return to college. Despite that, her decision to re-enroll to complete medical school requirements made her parents wonder how it would affect her dating life, she says. ``They knew that my social life would be much more limited because I'd be consumed with school all the time,'' she says. Living at home works well for her, Xochitl says, especially now that she's back in school. And although her parents have never voiced as strong an opinion on moving out as Suzie, Xochitl's mother reminds her that she can stay as long as she likes. ``It's not so much that they tell me I have to live here, because they don't,'' Xochitl says. ``I think it's because they were both at home until they were married.'' One minor dating disagreement that Xochitl has with her parents is one others might envy. ``They don't think I date enough,'' she says.
more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad