Holidays are just another term for madness. You have your overcrowded malls, pushy mothers with crying babies, a never ending shopping list, heavier traffic, no parking, and no time to watch that favorite Thursday night TV show (love my Grey’s Anatomy).
Holidays are also known for something else—family gatherings. And when I say family gatherings, I mean introducing the special someone to my folks, aunties and uncles, cousins, half cousins, and twice removed cousins from a second marriage.
It’s too early to even begin contemplating marriage.
It wasn’t by choice—I was forced too. I needed to show progress. Sure, I have a new job, I just bought myself my first new car and I had moved out of my house but this wasn’t enough. Not by a long shot.
I had never introduced Michael to my dad’s side of the family. Michael and I work in the same industry and met though a mutual friend. He has a slim frame and cute in a hipster way charm, with a dash of metrosexual style. He has black hair that is generally shaped into a faux hawk and nothing but designer jeans. He is more fashionable than me in many ways, I’d say. I should also add that he’s Asian. You’ll see why I mentioned that.
“We’re going to auntie’s house this coming Sunday. Auntie wants us to bring our boyfriends,” my sister says over the phone.
“I’ll try,” I say.
“It’ll be fun! I’m bringing Dan so don’t worry,” she comforts.
“Alright, alright. I’ll call and ask him,” I assure her.
I had to ask him casually. It wouldn’t be as easy as “Hey Michael, you want to go catch a movie and meet my family after?” But I imagined I’d aim for something similar to that.
I call Mike late that night and think of the best way possible to trap him into going without sounding like a loose cannon. The first step was to make sure he was available.
“What are you doing Sunday?” I ask.
“Eh, nothing much…why?” he says.
The second step was to make him think this was spur of the moment.
“Oh, I don’t know. I just thought maybe we could go away.”
“That’d be really nice!” he agrees.
Now was the time for the catch.
“Actually, my sister &Dan will be going to Philly to visit some relatives. They have some really great cheese steaks down there,”
If all goes wrong, entice him with food.
“Yea, I guess we could go.”
Solid. That wasn’t too bad.
Sunday Morning, we arrive in Philadelphia. I haven’t seen my aunt and uncle in years. The small crinkles that gather up near my auntie’s eyes remind me of how much we’ve grown up. I remember playing with the sprinklers and kiddie pool at her house. The house still smelled like incense mixed with good ol’ Chinese food and the retro blue vinyl walls were still in the bathroom. A part of me felt right at home. And then it was time to introduce the new ones in our lives.
My auntie and uncle both greeted Dan and Michael with a warm, welcoming hug. They are the most loving relatives a niece could ask for. And although Dan charmed them, it was clear that Mike became their strong favorite. Little things, such as being able to chat and have small talk in Chinese put my Auntie and Uncle at ease. Michael could explain to them what part of China his family was from. It didn’t hurt that my uncle always doted on me for being the youngest in the family. In the kitchen, my Auntie tells my sister it’s okay that Dan is a “Bak gwai” or White, as long as he treats her well. For me, it seemed I got an automatic pass because I was dating an Asian man. Coincidence or not, all of my first generation cousins born here are married or are dating out of race, particularly White, with the exception of two and I am one of them. And although the elders have never verbally expressed disproval for dating out of race, it was clear that they preferred us to marry a nice Chinese guy. As for my grandfather, he’d prefer us to date a nice, RICH, Chinese guy. No pressure, no pressure at all.
The second we came into the house, my auntie had immediate orders to call my grandfather in Hong Kong. He wanted to hear from us the second we arrived. We gathered around the phone, put it on speaker, and had my auntie act as an interpreter for words too complicated for my elementary Chinese understanding.
“When are you getting married?”
Grandpa was always straight and to the point. I see Mike’s cheeks redden.
I was speechless. All eyes are on me. It would be the first time I discussed my relationship seriously and it would be in front of Mike, my family, and broadcasted to Hong Kong. Nice.
So I did what any normal person would do under pressure: I pushed the spotlight onto my sister. I know, I know, it was bad; but what are sisters for? Sharing is caring.
My sister is four years older than I, living with her boyfriend and in a deeply committed relationship. Grandpa knew this and yet somehow overlooked to ask her the same question.
I thought I was safe until he threw me a hardball again.
“Does he come from a good family?” he questions. By “good,” the translation meant rich. By rich, he meant wealthy. How do I answer that with Mike right in front of me? Before I could think of a safe answer, Michael grabs the phone. He satisfies my Grandpa’s concerns in fluent Chinese and assures him that he can take care of me. My auntie and uncle smile as they feel reassured as well.
I’m relieved. It felt like I was running over hurdles and just passed the finish line.
And then there is my sister. And although they did accept Dan, it wasn’t quite the same reception that Mike received. At the same time, it felt really nice to finally find a man that made my family happy. I won’t lie, my family’s opinion matters to me. The question is how much.
It’s too early to even begin contemplating marriage. The idea of marriage still sends an uneasy feeling to my gut. I am eons upon eons away from it. I wish I could be politically correct and give you my beauty pageant answer; That the world is beautiful, and I won’t choose him by the color of his skin. But honestly, it does make a difference. Oh, and we never got those Philly cheesesteaks.