Interracial marriage: A Filipina’s online journey to blissful ties

In Photo: A Filipino woman talks to a foreign national over the video capability of the Internet. Interracial relationship sealed online has helped some couples to achieve a successful marriage.

INTERRACIAL marriages in the country have existed long before the advent of air travel and the Internet.  It is defined as “a marriage between spouses who belong to different races”.

Interracial marriage was historically a taboo in the US and outlawed in South Africa. It was formally declared legal in the former only in 1967.

In the last decades, however, mail-order bribes became a “fashion”. Mail-order brides were prevalent in 19th-century America; their object being brides from well-developed areas on the Eastern seaboard to marry men in Western frontier lands.

“In the 21st century, the trend is now based primarily on Internet-based meeting places that do not qualify per se as mail-order bride services. The majority of the women listed in the 20th century and 21st century services are from Southeast Asia, countries of the former Eastern Bloc and, to a lesser extent, from Latin America.

The Philippines became famous for mail-order brides due to poverty and the lack of employment, forcing thousands of Filipinos to find work abroad and to seek marriage with foreigners. They were seeking a better life and to support their families back home.

Because of the uproar that followed after many overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) were victimized by syndicates, the government eventually banned mail-order brides in 1990 through the enactment of Republic Act (RA) 6955.

The law was amended to exact heavy penalties for businesses peddling Filipino spouses through the mail-order system.

RA 10906, or the anti-mail order spouse law, makes it illegal for anyone to operate a business matching a Filipino to a foreign national for marriage or common-law partnership through personal introduction, e-mail, snail mail, web site or advertisement on traditional media.

The law also sanctions clubs that aim to introduce Filipinos to foreigners in order to allow them to broker a marriage or common-law partnership. RA 10906 also protects “Filipino spouses” and also includes digital platforms, but not including social-media sites.

While protecting against immediate permanent arrangements, the law does not cover dating web sites, or businesses that only aim to let foreigners meet Filipinos for purposes other than marriage or common-law partnerships.

Good match

A Filipina who got disappointed by the lean pickings from the local male population tried the online-dating web site out of curiosity and, eventually, hit the “jackpot”.

Eight years later, their union blessed them with a son, now 18 months old. They initially lived in the United States but the husband gets assigned to work abroad and, presently, they are having a field day in Singapore.

Jam Kotenko-nee Regis is adept with the written words and she practically wrote the story for this piece, following an interview and questions sent via electronic mail.  She gamely relates how she met, got engaged and married her spouse.

“My husband Jason and I met in a way that’s still considered by the older generation as unconventional and unique, but in 2017 is actually commonplace: by meeting online through a dating web site,” Jam said.

Jam used to live in Ayala, Alabang, and one day opened a dating web site.

Jam said her husband-to-be Jason “landed on my profile”. The site lets you know when someone views a page.

“I viewed his, found his profile interesting and initiated a correspondence. The rest, as they say, is history.” That time, Jason was a programmer at Trivera Technologies.

She said the web site rated their pairing as a 98-percent match.

Good choice

ACCORDING to Jam, her search for Jason has always been at the back of her mind.

“After having a few relationships with guys of the same heritage and experienced varying levels of heartbreak with each and every one, I made a conscious decision to try dating someone from a different country, just to see if my past breakups were personality-based and if I could get along better with somebody culturally different,” she said. “I was tired of having to defend my being nonreligious, or the fact that I took a two-year break from college and took longer to attain a degree. I needed to meet new people who were more open-minded, who respected me as an equal who had valuable insights, who appreciated my type of humor and personality. I needed to date someone who ‘got’ me.”

Jam said talking to people who lived abroad “had its perks”.

“If they turned out to be creeps, then the distance between us would prevent me from having to interact with them in person and I can just stop writing back or answering their Skype calls,” she said. “If they were gems, they’d figure out a way to visit me in the Philippines to meet up in person—a gesture that was itself a sign that the guy is a keeper!—or would be willing to meet up if I ever went on a trip abroad.”

Jam said they go on “‘dates’ by watching the same movies and basketball games with Skype on, so it feels like we’re watching together.”

“He also met my entire family via webcam.”

Far concept

JAM said she wasn’t really focused on marriage per se when she started online dating, “but I had an inkling that maybe I’d have a better chance at a long-term relationship with a foreigner.”

“After meeting Jason, I knew I made the right call.”

Jason, on the other hand, said most of the women he was meeting in the US were not clicking with him.

“So when Jam came up [on the web site], I was open to it,” he said. “I had dated people of other races and nationalities in the past, so it wasn’t a big deal overall.”

Still, Jam said she was unprepared to be a housewife in the United States, where they were first based as a married couple. She explained that in the Philippines “it’s common to have live-in help and I grew up with people who helped my mom manage the household with everyday chores and maybe even child care.”

“In the US having household help is reserved for the super-rich.”

She said Jason grew up with a mom who did everything herself—cooked, cleaned the house, ran errands, attended community functions, managed a side business, and cared for him and his brother as babies.

Adjustment period

ACCORDING to Jam, she tried to adapt to Jason’s definition of a housewife.

“In the six years that we’ve lived there and in the five years that we’ve been married, I tried very much to adapt to the definition of housewife Jason was familiar with, and while there were times when I thought I was doing a good job of it, the struggle that got me to that point was very real…especially once our son was born!”

Relocating to Singapore also changed things.

“Now that we are based in Singapore, where we have household help, I feel slightly more confident being my own brand of housewife: a convenient mix of the typical US stay-at-home mom who is capable to do everything and more and a Filipino leader of the house who knows how to delegate and supervise,” she said.

Jason said he also had to adjust.

“My family is much smaller and less connected because it is spread all around the US, which is a very big country.”

He added he never had the concept of a close, extended family.

“Even my immediate family put more emphasis on independence and self-reliance than Jam’s,” Jason said. “That was definitely the biggest thing that I noticed.”

Managing differences

JASON said it helped that Jam was already a bit “Americanized” in attitude before they met.

“It was natural for us then to go our own way and start an independent life from her family and mine,” Jason said. “I know I could have never fully integrated into the Filipino family way of life so in that way Jam moved in my direction more than I moved in hers.  Otherwise, we are so much alike that we haven’t had a ton of issues around differences in opinion on how we should lead our lives.”

Still their passion for adventure and traveling helped further cement their relationship.

“My favorite part about our marriage and relationship is our equal thirst for adventure. We love traveling!” Jam said.

They also frequently did cross-country road trips in the US, enjoying the local activity or delicacy.

Pretty lucky

JAM said she considers herself “pretty lucky to have not been exposed to a high level of racism that a lot of people of color are experiencing in the US these days”.

“The most [treatment] that I have gotten is the insistence that my English was exceptional and how they couldn’t believe I didn’t have a thick accent like other Filipinos they know,” Jam said. “I also take pride in being a Filipino, so when someone asks me where I am from, I immediately say I was born and raised in the Philippines even before mentioning the place we used to live [San Jose, California, before moving to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania], unlike Filipinos who grew up in the US who probably identify more as American and would instinctively say American before mentioning Filipino.”

She said she also considered herself “very lucky to have American family members who received my different heritage with open arms”.

“I was happily encased in a racist-free bubble and was incredibly grateful for it.”

Blissful feeling

HOWEVER, this feeling of bliss was temporary and things started to change following the election of Donald J. Trump.

“I became hyper-aware. I became wary of the place we lived in and became critical of its reception of Asians [and] Filipinos and kids of mixed descent,” Jam said.

She added they used to live in a predominantly white neighborhood.
“And there was a very high probability that if my son were to go to school there, he’d be the only Asian in his class, a thought that made me cringe—still does to this day,” Jam said. “I didn’t want to expose [my son] to that and have it tarnish his childhood. I didn’t want him to grow up completely alone and without compatriots who could relate to him better.”

That concern “definitely affected” their decision to move away from the US.

“I have no regrets,” Jam said.

On the other hand, Jason said they “probably had a rosy point of view when we moved to Pittsburgh and into the suburbs that everyone would be accepting and nice and we would become part of a community”.

“That never happened, and part of me thinks it was partially related to all the Trump signs that popped up in the election all around us,” he said. “Did those people see my wife as a foreigner who shouldn’t be there?  What did they think of my son, and of me? “

Culture quirks

THERE are Filipino practices that Jason found sometimes funny.

“The concept of needing to take a shower if you get ambon [drizzle] to avoid getting sick is one,” he said. “The need to get pasalubong [gift] for everyone in the family every time you go to a different country and having to use the spoon with your right hand and the fork with your left hand, or having to use the spoon at all [are another].”

He added there’s also the concept of noche buena and that there doesn’t seem to be any toilet paper in public restrooms.

For Jam, what was surprising was American “don’t use spoons with their meals and how, apparently, there’s no such thing as ulam [viand] in the US”.

She cited a day when Jason made a stew on the slow cooker and she prepared to cook rice.

“When he realized what I was doing, he stopped me and told me we don’t need rice and there’s potato in the stew.”

Jam also realized one cannot call the waiter’s attention to order more because it is considered rude.

“You have to wait for them to come back to your table.”

What Jason finds difficult to understand is the inability of Filipinos to say “No.”

“If I ask for directions on the street, instead of someone telling me that they don’t know, they will simply point me in any random direction to be helpful.”

No interference

ACCORDING to Jam, her being a Filipino doesn’t interfere with their relationship.

“I think it makes it more interesting. After seven years of being together, five of them as a married couple, he still cannot speak Tagalog,” she said. “But he at least knows enough to know if he is being talked about by my friends and relatives.”

Jam said her being Filipino and his being American also improves their relationship in terms of upbringing “because we are able to get the best of both our worlds and instill it in our family life, as well as each other”.

She cited the tight-knit relationship of her family as example.

Despite the difference in racial traits, however, Jam finds similarities.

“We both value honesty, we’re passionate, and generous. We’re both nonreligious and have an outlook that is rooted in science. We both like preparing for the future. I like making lists and he likes making excel sheets of all our plans.”

Management tips

Jam said they were able to manage to reconcile cultural, racial, political and other differences because they were aware of these in the first place.

“Coming into the relationship the way we did, we already knew what we were getting into beforehand,” she said. “The beauty of having a digital romance and long-distance relationship to start with is you’re encouraged to be as descriptive about your life story as possible with the person you are getting to know.”

Jam said they talked about absolutely everything and left nothing out through thousand-word e-mails exchanged each and every day of their courtship.

“On top of that, we also chatted through text and video,” she added.

“In a matter of a few months, we found out that we had the same political beliefs [liberal], the same level of regard for racial equality and the same excitement over learning new cultures,” Jam said. “It honestly wasn’t so hard to navigate our differences because our channels of communications were very, very wide to begin with. That is something we try to keep intact in our marriage.”

Odd foods

ACCORDING to Jam, when they were first getting to know each other, “Jason told me he was the type of guy who is willing to try new things and try new foods at least once, which is what impressed me about him.”

Balut, surprisingly, did not gross him out,” she said.

Jam added the first time Jason tried balut (boiled duck fetus), “it was the sizzling variety and he sat the duck on his spoon, making it ‘talk’ before eating it whole”. “He’s super proud about that story.”

However, Jam said Jason “hates bagoong (fish paste) with a passion”.

“He refuses to eat anything that requires it [bagoong] as an ingredient or sauce, like green mango or [in] kare-kare.”

One day, Jam said her brother-in-law served binagoongang baboy (pork in bagoong) and didn’t tell Jason what it was. Jason said the viand was delicious and when he finally found out, he laughed hard.

“He then agreed that he would eat food with bagoong in it as long as it’s mild and the fishy taste is disguised,” Jam said.

She added he’s not a fan of dried fish “and refuses to let me cook it inside the house”.

Jason was put to the test, however, when Jam, while pregnant, had a craving for danggit (dried fish) but she was too nauseous to cook it.

“He braved the smell of it and cooked it for me using the barbecue grill in our back porch.”

According to Jam, her husband has also eaten camaro (fried crickets), which he found tasty. He does not like sinigang or any sour soup.

For Jam, American food is acceptable to her.

However, she was shocked by the large or super-sized helpings.

Digital settlement

FOR Jam, electronic mail is still the best way to settle differences.

“Our never-fail technique for settling arguments, disputes, misunderstandings and prickly issues? Believe it or not, e-mail!” she exclaimed. “The beauty of the written word is that you are able to compose your thoughts and you have time to deliberate, let your intense feelings simmer and dissipate, and gives you the opportunity to remove or rephrase statements you might say out of hurt or anger and focus on the root cause of the problem.”

She said they’ve settled major fights by writing letters back and forth.

“And we always come out of it with a better grasp of the other person’s feelings and point of view,” she said.

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