Calling All Ye Race Traitors: Let’s Talk Interracial Relationships

Interracial couples from Fools Rush In and Jane the Virgin

One of my favorite portrayals of interracial romance on TV is Jane The Virgin’s Jane Villanueva and Michael Cordero Jr., played by Gina Rodriguez and Brett Dier. Jane and Michael had their fair share of issues (granted, this is a telenovela), but the respect and love that Michael brought to the relationship was swoon-worthy. From reciting his vows in Spanish to respecting Jane’s needs to helping her abuela avoid deportation, I rooted for their partnership every step of the way.

On the other hand, my favorite interracial romance film (my reason for focusing on White/Hispanic pairings will become obvious in a moment) is Fools Rush In, starring Matthew Perry and Salma Hayek. Besides my massive crush on Mathew Perry, the film speaks to me because it’s nice to see my Mexican-American culture on screen, I’m a sucker for romance, and it’s funny as hell.

The Traditional Love Path in the Latino Community

When I was little, it seemed like my path of love was clear as a Latina woman: meet a Hispanic Catholic guy, date him for about two years (but stay a virgin, of course), then marry and have a lot of kids. The problem with the supposed “straight and narrow” path happens when you venture away from it.

What if I don’t want to date a man? You’re a sinner; something is wrong with you; you’re just confused.

What’s wrong with dating outside our religion? The way they believe is wrong.

Why can’t I move in with my boyfriend of three years? You’re living in sin.

Can’t we just be partners? Who needs a marriage certificate? You’re afraid of commitment (or see the previous answer.)

The hardest part about rebelling against aspects of your culture (other than risking your physical, mental, social, and emotional safety) is people think you’re rejecting your culture in its entirety. You find yourself outside the community or on the fringe, and it can be a little lonely. But, believe me, you are not alone.

“Don’t Date A White Boy”

According to Census.gov, when it comes to types of interracial relationships, “the largest of these is non-Hispanic whites married to Hispanics.”

Imagine it’s 2007 (being a little creative with the story, but bear with me). After a bike ride with my siblings on the crumbling backroads of Victoria, Texas, the summer sun beating down on our backs along with a surprise rain shower, we pile into the house. My dad is on the floor sitting against the couch, my little baby brother on his stomach, watching John Wayne DVDs. We’re talking about who knows what when the topic of dating (gasp!) pops up. A protective and sometimes infuriatingly traditional Mexican-American man, he warns me about who not to date.

“Not a black guy,” he says.

“Why not?” I ask. To this day, I don’t remember if he or another family member said this, but the general answer was, “they come out looking funny.”

“Not a White boy,” he says.

“Why not?” I ask. My dad is white-complected. My AP classes are filled with White kids, a few Hispanics, and the occasional Black peer.

“White man speak with forked tongue,” he answers. Supposedly said by Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce, his reply doesn’t sit well with me. “They’ll look down on you.” Of course, I dismiss this entirely until life smacks me across the face with real-world examples, not the least of them being told to Go Back To Mexico™.

“And definitely not a Mexican,” he quips, and we burst out in laughter. My problematic father was an equal opportunity racist who probably just wasn’t ready for his little girls to grow up. Today, I strive to be as anti-racist and anti-prejudice as possible, but, truthfully, the lessons of one’s childhood are hard to shake.

Unpacking Our “Preferences”

Of course, I’m not implying that Latinos are the only racist group today. We’ve all heard or seen how members of the White community treat interracial romance from exoticizing people of color to outright disgust to, up until relatively recently, jail time and death. Colorism is a huge factor in this. Believe me, I know how privileged I am in my choice of partner – had I dated someone of a darker race or even a darker Latino, I’d have had a much harder path.

Dating A White Boy

Fast forward to 2021: my partner of eight years and the love of my life is a White guy. What had started with a few OkCupid messages and patiently waiting as my date took a literal hour to find parking has turned into a relationship I wouldn’t trade for anything.

Oh, make no mistake; it isn’t easy. Working through cultural barriers and unconscious bias can be an uphill battle, but it’s worth it to have a life partner who accepts all of me. Of course, there are always doubts.

Race traitor is a particularly harsh label that rolls around my head at inopportune times. The urge to fall in line is strong.

On the other hand, I sometimes feel like an outsider to my partner’s culture by default. I once asked my future mother-in-law (after three margaritas) if a nice, bubbly, conservative, White Southern girl would have been easier to deal with or preferable. She, a straightforward and patient woman, laughed and said no; someone like that would have probably been an annoyance.

Love Who You Want, Your Way

If you’re ever feeling down about your interracial relationship, here are a few tips I live by:

  • It’s sad that I have to even say it, but here it is: dating or marrying someone outside of your race is OK. You are not a race traitor, Uncle Juan, or Tia Taco. Your child (if you want kids) will be as beautiful as any other. You will face unfair assumptions, discrimination, and many misunderstandings, and if you choose to opt out of that, I completely understand. But if you don’t, please know you have allies who are in similar situations. We got you.
  • Every relationship requires work, and interracial relationships are no different. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt and talk through the issues that make you feel uncomfortable. Of course, feel free to jump ship when faced with blatant prejudice or when you see fit; after all, it’s your life. Eye-opening conversations are par for the course, and setting clear expectations can only help you.
  • Finally, expose each other to your respective cultures. It’s funny; I find myself rediscovering and understanding my culture on a new level when I share it with my partner. We celebrate each other’s differences with a mix of Latinx and U.S. food, film, and discussion of politics, spirituality, and history.

Real-life isn’t like the movies or TV shows that grace our screens. I’m not stuck in a love triangle like Jane, and my fiancé isn’t seeing signs and making grand gestures (though the comedic shenanigans are oddly on point). And we may not always agree or understand each other perfectly. But there isn’t anyone else I’d rather discover the world with. 

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