Interracial couplings are at their highest levels in American history, with new Census data revealing that 1 in 10 married couples are mixed. People are merging race, culture and religion to create a fusion of something different and new. But when it comes to the point where marriage -- and particularly the wedding ceremony -- is seriously discussed, that fusion can quickly become a culture clash as parents and other family members protest and lobby for their particular traditions to be honored during the festivities.
Ten years ago when it was my turn to walk down the aisle, my mother pestered me for months to "jump the broom," an African American tradition that originated during slavery to signify a man and woman crossing over a threshold and into a new life together. Before I could say yay or nay, she had a fru-fru looking broom suitable for Cinderella's castle clutched in her hands and ready to pass to the wedding coordinator.
Once my husband's family recovered from the mild shock of welcoming the first black Karazin since their family crest was established in Estonia circa 1348, my in-laws only requested that we go through the candle-lighting ceremony, and mainstay in the Catholic religion. I fretted about whether or not our nuptial hodgepodge would satisfy both my parents and in-laws up to the day I said "I do."
The Potential Chaos of a 'Family Fusion'
The stressful part interracial and intercultural weddings is often the family, says Kristin Koch, senior editor of WeddingChannel.com. Parents often feel like they are losing their child to someone else and deviating from religion or culture and that can feel like a rejection. "Give it time. Let the parents get used to the idea of your partner. Be honest from the start about how you wish to have the ceremony, and don't wait eight months to tell your parents that you're having a non-traditional wedding -- the longer you wait, the harder it is."
Eliss Jackson, African American, has faced hurt feelings over planning her wedding with fiance, Joseph Cucchiara, whose parents are Sicilian. His parents have expressed concerns about their son marrying a black woman, in part because they worry that their family's traditions might be erased. With all the planning, frustration and emotions running wild, Joseph bemoans, "I'll just be happy when it's over."
Fri Forjindam, founder and editorial director of Wedding Nouveau, a magazine dedicated to celebrating nuptials of fusion couples, also advises that understanding why a certain custom is important will help prioritize what to incorporate in a wedding. Eliss struggled with incorporating 'jumping the broom,' because she feared Joseph's family might not understand. But she soon found out she needed not worry -- once she explained to Joseph how important the tradition was to her, he was enthusiastic to do it, and said he would Joseph take the lead in explaining it to his parents. The couple are also planning to incorporate some traditional Italian mainstays too, like serving the Italian wedding soup. And while they aren't going to marry in a church, they opted for a winery, which Joseph deems apropos since Italians are known for their love of wine.
Create Something New
Experts recommend interracial and intercultural couples embrace their differences and get creative. "Fusion couples often decide and accept that they're not part of the norm and embrace that into their wedding themes. For interracial couples, they have no choice but to break the rules," says Forjindam.
Sehnita Joshua-Mattison, whose family hails from Pakistan, explained to her fiance, Aaron Mattison, who is white, how important is was to her that he participate in the traditional pre-wedding ceremonies like the mehndi, an ancient Indian custom in which intricate henna patterns are applied to the hands and feet of the bride and groom as an outward symbol of the family blessing the marriage. Conversely, Aaron, who was raised Catholic but wasn't practicing, insisted that the couple be married in church so that the union can be officially recognized. As a compromise, the couple got married in an Episcopalian church with two officiants -- one a Pakistani Christian minister, and the other a Catholic priest. "Aaron can be pretty cynical about religion, but I guess the Catholic is embedded in him," says Sehnita. I had the pleasure of attending Aaron and Sehnita's wedding and reception, and while the ceremony was decidedly Western, the party afterwards was the stuff of Bollywood movies.
Don't be afraid to create a hybrid ceremony based on your values. "I had a lesbian couple advocate for marriage equality by performing four worldwide wedding traditions with great respect, sending a loving message that someday, marriage equality will be the norm, and love will prevail in positive ways. They drank wine together, did a hand fasting, jumped the broom, and broke the glass all in order. It was touching and joyful," says Barbara Ann Michaels, a wedding officiant in Manhattan.
The key to a fusion wedding going off without a hitch is make sure the ceremony reflects what makes the two of you unique, and make it fun. Take Nihara Nichelle and her husband Gregory Malcolm (both biracial, with Caucasian and African American parents): they decided to confuse everyone and dress in traditional Indian wedding dress, while their wedding party wore traditional Cantonese outfits, and got married in the backyard of a cafe during cherry blossom season. They also jumped the broom and landed on a glass while saying Mozel Tov to commemorate both heritages. "Own your story and don't apologize for it." says Forjindam.
Below, photos of gorgeous 'fusion' weddings:
Christelyn D. Karazin is the co-author of "Swirling: How to Date, Mate & Relate, Mixing Race, Culture and Creed", and also operates an interracial relationships blog called Beyond Black & White.