Navigating Race as an Inter-Cultural Couple Returning to Your Passport Country
You found the love of your life overseas, got married, and are returning to your home country
You’re a mixed race couple who has been navigating life overseas, dealing with the frustrations of being a second class citizen or alternatively the one percent, and are at long last headed home where you know how race is going to work!
Do you land and realize maybe things have changed? Maybe it’s not quite what I thought it was going to be? Is it harder than you expected? Alternatively, is it such a relief?
Race is often an unspoken foundation, coming with stereotypes and assumptions that can be hard to navigate. When you went overseas it’s unlikely anyone talked about it – because it is so often taboo or difficult to approach. However, you likely had to face it regardless. In some cultures mixed race couples may not really exist, in some it’s so commonplace you keep wondering why it’s not more like that back home. Regardless, coming home will come with a set of your own assumptions that may be challenged upon your return. What can you do?
Treat your Return like a New Culture Journey. So much of returning home comes to expectations management. Whether or not someone told you what to expect regarding race before you left, it likely crossed your mind. Being mentally prepared, having thought about it in advance will already get you in the right mindset. Are you going back to somewhere your new spouse might be considered a “second-class citizen”? Or are you going to be one and he has to be more present in public settings with you? Is that different than where you are now? Have you both done this before? Having a conversation about your expectations of one another and your new society are important to laying the foundation for your arrival.
Do Your Research. Just like when you move to any new place you discover the demographics, what society looks like, and read up on the news. If you see conversations surrounding race within a diverse population or a total lack of that conversation in a diverse population it gives you indicators of how that society is engaging with or has overcome racial stereotypes. Similarly, conversations regarding legal proceedings over certain types of religious iconography could lead to certain associations that might impact you, especially if the icons are associated with a certain skin color or feature.
Communicate. You already know this, but sometimes we assume that coming “home” will change the way we react to things. We also may struggle with some of the identity issues we now face – being seen as more foreign than you already were if a minority in your passport country or not feeling like you fit in now that you are helping another person adjust to the things you so romanticized to your partner. These are difficult feelings that may even trigger the need for professional support. Regardless, communication between partners is ever more critical at this stage. Individuals that are in a partnership and have come to Nextpat consistently tell us that greater communication upon their return is what got them through it.
Find a Community. Even if there isn’t a single other couple that is similar to you in the town you’ve moved to, the world is more interconnected than ever. Find the community that can support the newness. They should be supportive and inspiring. Use them to help understand that the situation is temporary. Recognize the stages of your grief over the loss of your last location or the loss of control over knowing how things work. Know that you aren’t alone and that people make it through.
Forge a New Path. Find your joy and fulfillment anyway. A friend of mine has a tagline – “Smile, it makes people wonder why.” I love that – the mischievousness, not to mention that smiling sends signals to your brain to release happier hormones, a positive feedback loop that is hard to resist. If you find upon your return that the new race environment in your passport country leaves something to be desired, start engaging on the topic – teach, advocate, work, whatever floats your boat. Alternatively, if it’s exactly what you expected and amazing, pause to reflect on it and welcome it. And still, be ready to stand up for whatever you believe in, as it arises.