Today is the 50th anniversary of Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court decision that invalidated state laws restricting interracial marriage.
I am of mixed heritage by birth and mixed love by marriage — my mother is Iranian, my father is Irish-American, and my husband is Mexican.
Growing up in a small town in Tennessee, I realized pretty quickly I was different than my fair-skinned classmates. Every time I met someone new, I was immediately asked, “What are you?” Not “where are your parents from” or “what ethnicity are you” — just “what are you?” As if my olive skin made me more of an exotic animal than just another kid that wanted to play at recess.
Their questioning made me question myself. But I had a pretty childlike response that spoke volumes. When asked “what I was”, I’d reply with a simple, “I’m Sharareh.”
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the questions were prompted from the unknown. My ethnicity was a mystery to them, and they didn’t always go about finding the answer in the best way. I used their abrasive questioning as an opportunity to discuss, teach and open minds any chance I got.
Fast forward 20+ years, and here I am not only embracing my heritage but also learning and embracing my husband’s Mexican culture.
Our cultures never played a big role when we were dating. They were just fun facts about us like our favorite movies or where we’d love to travel one day. As our relationship deepened, we realized it was important to not only acknowledge each other’s culture, but also embrace them into our life together.
I love learning about his heritage, his family, his traditions and he is just as excited to learn mine. We love surprising each other with nuggets of who we are and the worlds we come from. Because of my husband, I have a greater understanding of Mexico and its history. Our honeymoon was in Mexico, and I was beyond excited to explore the country his family came from and am eager for the next time we can visit.
I’ve loved watching my husband’s infatuation for my culture grow from devouring khoresh gheymeh to watching Iranian films. At our wedding, he loved having the Sofreh Aghd be a part of the ceremony, and learned a dance move or two for the reception.
His respect and admiration for the eclectic and beautiful stories of the Middle East and Iran’s place within it make me appreciate what we have and how we are growing together.
So you would think that two people that love each other and love each other’s diverse cultures would be easy sailing, right?
It doesn’t always work that way. I thought as the daughter of a mixed-race couple, I would be prepared for how people would react and how we would be judged.
I could not have prepared myself or my husband for the array of questions and comments that have come our way since the moment we met each other’s families.
From me being asked why I didn’t choose to be with an Iranian to him being asked if he’d have to have a Muslim wedding, from us both being asked how we would raise our children, what traditions they’d know, what languages they’d hear — yea, not prepared.
Since a marriage is a combination of you and your families, we worked through the maze of questions of who we were to both sides. We proved time and time again that our love was going to be what guided everything in our lives, and our “mixed-ness” would add to the growth and strength of our relationship.
I look at us and know that despite the stress and confusion we experienced, it could have been a lot worse. I think of my parents who, if you can imagine, lived in a much more controversial time than we do now. I think of what they faced, my father an Irish-American from Boston marrying an Iranian woman while the Iran hostage crisis was fresh in American’s minds.
I think of mixed couples who came decades before my parents, where a moment of holding hands could mean jail or worse — far worse.
So here we are with 50 years of legal interracial marriage. What I can think of now is all the beautiful and happy marriages (and relationships and families) that have happened. I think of how many of my friends are in mixed relationships — and it is as easy and effortless as it was for my husband and me. It is as beautiful and strong as it has been for my parents.
They all laugh, kiss, hug, dance, eat and enjoy their time together.
They are people in love, and that is all they need to know.
That is all we ever need to know.