Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Forbidden Fruit (also on BlogCritics.com)

The recent comedy Year One references the forbidden fruit. The movie pokes fun at biblical accounts, but watching it I thought about how everybody has a forbidden fruit, something we want but we know will cause things to turn chaotic after we taste that delicious bite. For some, money is that fruit, especially if achieved by mob or gangster methods. For others, it's a beautiful body ready to touch despite its dangers.

For my father's side of my family, and me, it's wanting that foreign blood. Usually the features are black hair, dark skin, some sort of accent, and some major cultural differences. Metaphorically, we are the vampires, and they are the blood we want to suck. But usually, if we act upon those feelings, the results are disastrous. I'm not saying people shouldn't date somebody who's different. I'm a huge believer in interracial relationships. I'm just saying my family hasn't learned to find that happy medium yet.

The most famous case in the family is my Aunt Loretta's, maybe because hers was the most disastrous. My family can be super-religious and not open to cultural changes, and this occurred back in the 70s, near the beginning of the feminist movement, with some women still more concerned with finding a future love instead of having a future. Being very rebellious, Aunt Loretta became pregnant with an Arabic man's baby. The father's race shouldn't have been as big of a shock as it was, with one of her two sisters also married to an Arab (and that marriage being somewhat successful even today). But because he was Muslim, clashes were understandable.

They then moved to Iran for two years. I'm not sure which of the many stories from that period are true and which are just rumors, but I do know that the once carefree girl became a fearful woman who lost her son (the two most popular stories are that there was a forced abortion, and, alternatively, that the child was sold to another Iranian family). She got her other sister in trouble with the law (giving the sister no choice but to sue Loretta in court), and has been living on welfare ever since. She stays jobless and rarely leaves her room. She's scared of the FBI and of her ex-husband coming after her, and I'd like to call her crazy, but I can't tell whether her tales are real or fake. Maybe she can't either.

Then there's my dad, the hopeless romantic. Perhaps learning from his sister, he avoided dating women with extreme cultural differences, but is famous for walking the line. Growing up during the 60s and 70s, he became very much the womanizer, seeing in his mother what he did not want in a wife. His father, who never got past the sixth grade, got much of his education from old movies, fighting in the Korean War, and the times he lived in. He too was a womanizer – his first marriage ending because of his affairs with Asian women. Not wanting to recreate this history, my dad aspired to be a true head of his household and man's man. His problem was that he fell for and married women with very independent minds and cultural differences, and expected them to fit that traditional role once they got married. All three of his former wives have mixed backgrounds, being just white enough to not be looked down on by his family. My mother is very much Cherokee and Creek, and although having the most white persona of the three is physically the darkest. That marriage may not have been as big of a deal, because his family also has native blood (though it can't be proved). The other two wives, although very white-looking, have Hispanic roots in very different, unique ways, know Spanish, and frequently visit Mexico. The clashes between my dad and the wives were constant, and hearts were broken.

I've been the most hesitant person in my family about dating in general, not just with the forbidden fruit. Because of my dad's, my mother's, and my own experiences, I have even questioned whether marriage should be in my future. I've even considered acting like a whore for a couple of years and moving on, but I know that's not the best thing to have my heart go through. I show a tough exterior, never crying in public, and searching for weaknesses to fix, but I do have buried deep inside a hopeless romantic who cannot be killed.

My first encounter was in middle school and actually involved African Americans. My mother's side of the family is very much against interracial marriage. I could be friends with people with different backgrounds, but dating anyone different than me was out of the question. Many of my (mostly non-immediate) family members might not even show up to my wedding if I break this rule.

In eighth grade I was new to the school district, and an African American friend asked me out. I rejected him partly because I feared his intentions, since I was not very cool back then and had had many pranks played on me. But to this day I remember the other reason I said no, and it still haunts me: he was black, so he was not someone I could date.

I wasn't brave enough to stand against this injustice at that time, but after a couple of years went by, the situation came up again, and I did not want to make that same decision. That night, I asked my mother, who is the main parent I listen to, the following question: "I could understand if the man was a gang-banger who wanted to break into people's houses and stuff, but if the guy was responsible, has a good head on his shoulders, and treats me well, why does it matter whether he's black or not?" She couldn't answer the question for a long time. She thought about it and finally could say only this: "That was the way I was taught."

She admitted that she would be hesitant if I brought home someone neither white nor Native American, but said that she never wanted me to judge people by the color of their skin and that I would have her approval. From then on, that's what I've gone by. The other family members can kiss my butt. I almost dated that guy, but realized I just didn't like him in that way, black or not. But although I don't purposely pick out men from different races to date, I will never again turn down a man because of it.

I've had many crushes on men quite different from me and almost dated some of them. There was the Greek guy I worked with (that was more of a crush, since he was banging my boss); a Catholic New Yorker (not exactly a different race, but when you're from the Bible Belt that still counts); a dark and handsome student from London; an Arab in a college class; and most recently, a foreign exchange student from deep Mexico (so far down that there are no American teenagers smoking pot in the streets). I met him at the University gym. It's too soon yet to tell whether it's just a crush, an almost, or possibly someone I will date. Only time will tell.

Maybe my point is that moderation needs to be the key. We shouldn't completely avoid the possible loves in our lives, but also shouldn't plunge into a relationship with someone from a very different background without thinking first. Both approaches can have bad consequences. Maybe if the "race" word can be abandoned for good, and we start looking for soul mates based on the qualities they have inside, that forbidden fruit can turn into a healthy snack.

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