On My Intercultural Marriage
You have to look a little harder to tell with us. Our complexities don’t show on the skin. To the average passerby, my husband and I appear to be a typical African American couple, but that’s not the case. Not by a long shot. I, you see, am just as I appear: an American black girl raised right in the heart of the US of A. But my husband calls another place home.
He hails from the shores I might have walked had it not been for American slavery. Dakar, Senegal is where his roots lay. That makes him African, and together, the two of us have created an intercultural family that is both beautiful and complex.
Before things got intercultural
“I’m not an American. I’m an African trapped in America,” I used to say in my most militant, down-with-the-Man voice. I saw Africa as my real home, the one most Americans seem to have no appreciation for. Thanks to my mother’s diligence, I never viewed Africa as ugly, dirty, poor, less than. It was planted in my mind as a beautiful continent full of rich history and culture, and that’s how the seeds grew. As a child, I rejected every negative stereotype I encountered and made it a point to inform my brainwashed classmates that Africa had so much more to offer than poverty and intense heat.
I was as culturally aware as any 12-year-old could be, but still I knew (or at least thought I knew) that I wouldn’t marry someone from another country. Don’t misunderstand. I loved my international brothers then as much as I do now, but I thought the culture shock would be too great. I wanted someone who liked what I liked, knew what I knew, so there was just no way a non-American could fit the bill.
So then I meet this guy. French-born. Senegalese by blood. Studying at Drexel University (the same school I was in the process of applying to.) He was cool, he was cute, he was Muslim (bonus points), but he was not American. What’s a girl to do? I’ll save you the suspense. I married him, and that was the start of my intercultural marriage.
My new husband and I got along great, but there were… things that were different. For example, I love the Cosby Show, and Different World, and Living Single, and Martin. From time to time, you can hear me make references to them. Most people laugh, but not him. Half of those shows, he hadn’t even heard of. Sure, he’s seen an episode or two of Cosby and he’s heard of Martin, but he’s not rushing to set the DVR or anything like that.
In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t a big deal at all, but it’s strange to think that shows that were such an influence in my life are practically nonexistent in his. And it goes both ways. He grew up on Youssou N’Dour, Baba Maal, attaye (Senegalese tea), and Nutella. None of that existed in my world before him. As in love as we were, the differences were definitely there, and at times they caused little hiccups in our connection.
Like many Americans, I speak English—with a hint of high school Spanish. (Como estas?) My husband, however, speaks 4 languages, French, Wolof, Fulani and English. This presents no problem in our personal relationship, but it’s a huge obstacle when it comes to interacting with his family. I’ve learned a bit, some common phrases here and there, but it didn’t just come naturally like I assumed it would. Not having a common language has made it hard to get to know the important people in his life. That means an important part of him remains off limits. I have decided recently to put more effort into learning at least one of their languages, that way I can develop the type of connections I’ve always wanted. Plus, I don’t want him and the kids cracking jokes on me right in my face!
Remember how I said I’m not an American? Yea, well, I am. It took marrying someone who isn’t for me to realize that. No matter how much I claimed my African roots, the American in me came out when it came to issues of privacy. Africans are very community oriented. They often live together in big groups and even eat together from one big dish. It is a beautiful part of their culture that keeps the families tight and communities close-knit.
It’s one thing to hear about it or watch it on TV, but to find yourself in the middle of it when you’re used to privacy and individual space is a completely different experience. I can’t tell you how many get-togethers this house has hosted or how many spirited conversations I found myself left out of, but I can tell you it’s gotten much better. His family is thousands of miles away; mine can be reached through quick car ride . So, if he needs to have his crew (as I like to call them) over to make him feel closer to home, I can accept that.
There is always going to be more to learn about each other, but I do think we’ve finally found our cool. He’ll never recite lines from Lion King and I’ll never feel the need to eat chocolate spread for breakfast every morning, but at least we won’t mind when the other does. As long as I never expect him to “be American” and he never expects the opposite of me, we will continue to be able to respect and learn from our differences. It may not always be convenient, but it is always worth it. I wouldn’t trade my intercultural marriage for the world, and I’m certain he feels the same way. (He better!)
- Multicultural Families & Intercultural Relationships (multiculturalfamilia.com)
- Real Intercultural Families: Kaela and Fred (incultureparent.com)
- Young Media Moguls From Ghana Seek to Rebrand Africa (atlantablackstar.com)