The remark was made after a casual conversation between two wedding guests who had only known each other for less than five minutes. She approached me during the cocktail reception following the ceremony to comment on how much she liked the purple color of my dress. I admired her floral print shoes. We chatted about how the day's perfect weather made the outdoor ceremony at Cylburn Arboretum in Baltimore, Maryland even more celebratory. She had traveled from Arlington, Virginia taking the train to ensure safe travel, as she planned to try at least two of the signature cocktails named after the couple's two dogs and two horses. We had traveled from Boston by air and were staying in one of the block of hotel rooms reserved for the wedding guests. She was a friend of the groom's parents having known Jeremy since he was a toddler. I was a friend of the bride's parents; having once been a faculty member at the same university where Rhoni's father remained now as a dean.
After the introductory chit chat, there was a long pause as we both faced forward looking into the collection of wedding guests The pause provided the typical space where I would have taken the opportunity to say how nice it was to have chatted and taken off after the waiter with those incredibly delicious Parmesan cheese asparagus little whatevers that I wished I had taken three of instead of having only politely taken one. But then she blurted out exactly what I was thinking. "Well, this is the most diverse wedding I have ever attended." I turned to her and chuckled. As a diversity professional, my attention is automatically programmed to scan for diversity in my environment, but I was pleasantly surprised that my white friend of five minutes was having the same experience.
As a Chinese American and Jewish American couple, Jeremy and Rhoni join more than 5.3 million Americans in interracial marriage. However, it was not that fact that warranted the "most diverse wedding ever" title for me. At the risk of oversimplifying the issue, I believe that interracial couples support us all in moving toward a shared American experience that is critical to improving race relations and building a truly inclusive society. We had a taste of that shared experience during those five hours.
Whites, Blacks, Asians, Hispanics shared in the beauty and joy of the Jewish wedding traditions. The lavender yarmulke that my husband donned along with other male guests, as if planned, perfectly matched his shirt and tie. The Rabbi seamlessly guiding us through the ceremony, allowed us to engage in a very intimate way and made us all fell like family.
Die-hard meat lovers, like my husband, consumed a lot of incredibly delicious vegetarian Asian, Italian and Mexican dishes.
Dancing is a major feature at most weddings. No Jewish wedding is complete without the bride and groom getting hoisted in the air on chairs by hopefully strong and trusted family and friends. And nothing is more lively and festive than seeing folks representing different races, generations, socioeconomic class, and sexual orientation dance the Hora.
When Rich and Kennee told me about their daughter's engagement, they shared how much they really liked Jeremy and his parents. "They are just like us," was how Kennee described Heng and Anne. I understood that "like us" referenced values, attitudes, work ethics, as well as the dreams and goals they had for their children. As the saying goes, the fruit doesn't fall far from the tree. Rhoni and Jeremy realize that they share a global identity and are part of something larger than themselves. In lieu of gifts, they asked for donations to Rhoni's charity, Multiple Breed Rescue, an all-volunteer dog rescue organization, and Jeremy's charity, The Zeng Fund, an organization dedicated to promoting education and human-centered sustainable development in rural China.
As the wedding celebration continues for the family in Malaysia, Rhoni and Jeremy have left their wedding guests in the U.S. with a very special gift. We witness in them not only the ability to disencumber themselves of society's racial baggage but also evidence of the inherent God-given right each of us has to fulfill our human potential by loving. It is how we love, not our historical relationship to America, that dictates our ability to grasp the richness of the American experience. We got a glimpse of this richness at the "most diverse wedding ever." I am most grateful.