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"Tabu"

My husband and I met in high school. I was the "new girl;" he was a smart-mouthed member of the cool kids, a year older than I. At first, I thought he was a jerk and he thought I was crazy. Later, I realized he was actually sweet, and he learned I was really...well, crazy.

We started going out when I was sixteen and he was seventeen, during the production of a school play. We were completely into each other--totally obsessed. Our friends combined our names--Tabitha and Babu--into "Tabu" in honor of our devotion. But from the beginning, our relationship operated under certain constraints.

I am a Roman Catholic Irish-Cuban, and my husband is a Hindu South Asian. I am the oldest in a family of ten, and he is the youngest of two. My family is led by a breadwinner-homemaker team; his is headed by two successful doctors.

When I asked my mother if she minded that I was dating him, she smiled and said, "Of course not. You just can never marry him, because he is not Catholic." Babu never asked his parents whether he could date me or not; he was headed for an arranged marriage with a fellow Indian doctor. We kept our relationship secret from his family for a long time; we would even stop holding hands in public if any Indian people walked by. Right before he left for college, his mother threw our prom pictures in the garbage.

During the homecoming of my senior year of high school, he came back from college and gave me a promise ring. Exactly two years later, we were engaged. The following spring, I found out I was pregnant.

My parents were instantly supportive, but his parents were devastated. Surprisingly, they came around in time to put together a Hindu wedding ceremony the night before the Catholic ceremony. We have now been married for three years and have two daughters, ages 2 and 1.

Religious differences have proven to be much less difficult than cultural differences. Our children will be baptized and raised Catholic, and my husband attends Mass occasionally. (He was not raised to be particularly religious, but I was raised in a very devout Catholic home.)

The cultural issues arise rather often. My in-laws place great stock in grandSONS. Each time I was pregnant, they insisted on late ultrasounds to determine the sex; when they were told I was going to have a girl, they insisted it could still be a boy. When my husband announced that he was leaving medicine for law, they were horrified. They often dress me in Indian clothes, which makes me uncomfortably certain they still wish I was Indian. They also tend to make racist comments, which I find offensive and disturbing. They are not exactly pleased that we plan to have a very large family; they think large families are a sign of low-class values. Finally, much of their cultural norms are mysteries to me, so I am able to deeply offend whole assemblages of Indians with an offhand comment or look.

On the other hand, they think my family is mildly insane, with its noise, disorder and outward signs of affection. Our emphasis on faith clashes with their practicality; our disdain for materialism does not mesh with their caste notions of status; even my parents' body language (my father's masculine Cuban silence and my mother's exuberance) are troublesome to my in-laws. The normal follies of meshing two families are given an added layer of trouble by these cultural differences.

I am not certain how others see us. My family is full of interracial and intercultural marriages, but my husband's fellow South Asian-Americans are only beginning to come to terms with mixed marriages; in fact, many South Asians still observe arranged marriages, and, therefore, I am certain many Indians see our marriage as a failure. As for strangers--who knows? I can only hope that in our modern day and age interracial marriages are no longer an issue.

Our marriage is a thing of beauty, and our love grows stronger as we overcome and appreciate our differences. I am glad my children's Indian grandmother wears saris, their Cuban great-grandparents speak with accents, their Irish great-grandparents have sparkling blue eyes, and their Cuban-Irish grandparents speak often of their own high school sweetheart beginnings. I adore my children's burnished bottoms and my husband's striking brown face. I am happy that we serve a wide variety of ethnic foods. I am thankful that the color of people's skin will not be an issue for them until someone else points it out.

While love can be profound enough to transcend our differences, it does not do away with them, and issues will certainly continue to rise throughout our lives. We do share a powerful core of values, which is essential to weather the storms that spin off our disagreements; we share the same goals, if not the same pasts. I only know he is the one for me, and I am the one for him. I have always known this, and I would not have it any other way.





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