When I came to Canada at age 16, it is a period of my life where there are discoveries and huge transformations happening. It is a process of starting to navigate how it is like to think and act like a grown up. And with coming to a new country, it is also a process of exploring how it is like to adjust to the way of life here.
On top of completing high school, reaching legal age, going to university, starting a job, there is the relationship aspect to deal with as well. This is both in friendships and especially romance. I certainly learned quickly the idiosyncrasies of dating in Canada.
During family gatherings, older relatives would ask these three questions in a rapid-fire manner:
□□ So, Anak, do you have a boyfriend?
□□ Yes? Is he Filipino?
□□ Ay, why not Filipino?
In taxis, cafes, and even the gyms, these questions come about as well. When it comes to my relatives, the questions about my relationship status is not surprising. Being curious and wanting updates is normal, if not expected. It is the questions and the reactions about the boyfriend’s ethnicity is what catches me off guard. Is there a memo I missed that evaluates a good romantic partner based on their ethnic background? It looks like I also missed the memo that complete strangers will also react to this as well. And I most certainly missed the memo on how to argue to elders that someone’s race never mattered to me, but say it in a way that I still stay respectful. So, I don’t argue. I just laugh a little bit and the conversation switches to something else.
Filipino women make such good wives? Filipino men are better simply because of sharing the same culture? I am honestly perplexed by those comments. I cannot say whether it is true or not, whether it is just a stereotype, because I know of people from all cultures that have done terrible things to their romantic partners. I have observed this from my own relatives and friends, to stories of acquaintances and clients at work. There are times when I chat with a fellow Filipino on the bus, and they would say that the ‘white women are all the same’ and warn their kids against dating them. I remember my uncle telling me ‘all men are only after one thing’. I think that these over-generalizations are quite harmful, because it discounts the individual personalities that can make a person unique.
I have been with my significant other for seven years now. When we talk about relationships and our personal values, it has occurred to us that the fact that we grew up in different parts of the world, makes our perspectives a bit different. I grew up in a small mining village, cared for by relatives because of my parents passing away early. He was born and raised here in Edmonton, with his parents still living in the family home, and he made it clear that he loves this city and wants to live here forever. We learned to not ever make assumptions when feeling misunderstood. Perhaps, and it is likely the case, that certain situations never became an issue for the other person. The best parts are the times when we share similar viewpoints, or the satisfying moments when we have explained a whole different perspective to the other.
There is certainly value to this one quote I read in the multiple articles I saw online. I wished I have seen it sooner, but we did it without being prompted. “Date the person, not the culture”. I really appreciate this a lot for many reasons. This gave us as a couple, the flexibility to conform, adjust, or even break the cultural norms that seem to be imposed upon us, and make adjustments that we are satisfied with. I felt that the fact that he did not always understand the context of my life’s struggles, makes him a neutral sounding board, a comforting supporter, and the push to move on from them. I felt freed from the cultural stigma of discussing uncomfortable topics such as reproductive health, financial planning,religion and ethics.
Everyone’s romantic journeys are different, and that is what makes it special. It is a different ball game, when complicating factors such as ethnicity, different family compositions and upbringings have shaped us in unique ways before we met each other. But I believe that we are worth it, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.