It was their love for the wild and adventure that brought our November’s How We Met couple together. While both were born in the United States, Amber and Victor are of European and Mexican, and Chinese ancestry respectively.
Amber who holds a PhD in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology and worked as a scientist performing academic research into cancer biology for 10 years, decided it was time to embrace motherhood and alternative options in their entirety after giving birth to her daughter, Juniper. As she describes, “[I took] 20 years of experiences as a yoga practitioner and obsessive mover and combined it with a scientist’s love of anatomy, neurobiology, and evidence to embark on a career as a yoga, aerial yoga, and barre instructor.”
Victor holds a Master’s degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering and currently works as a software engineer. In his spare time, he likes to spend time with his daughter but sometimes misses his pre-parenting life as a ski/climbing/biking bum.
Now, over to Amber as she shares candidly, the interracial relationship and cultural experiences of her and her husband.
If your love story was made into a movie, what would you call it?
Honestly, I can’t think of any movie that is as complex as our relationship! Or maybe I just don’t watch enough movies… Maybe Into the Wild…
How did you meet? What attracted you to each other?
Victor and I met when I showed up at his house and knocked on the door. In my memory, he came to the door wearing only a towel, but I think he remembers it differently. At the time, he was living in Sacramento, in graduate school in the Computer Engineering program at Davis; I was living in Boulder, Colorado, in graduate school at the University of Colorado. I had taken a month-long break with a friend of mine from Boulder, who had been a climbing partner of Victor’s, to spend some time climbing in Yosemite National Park.
We stopped at Victor’s house to crash on his couch and try to persuade him to join us and lead some harder routes for us. Although he didn’t join us, on our way back to Colorado, we joined him and some friends for a long weekend in the Eastern Sierra backcountry skiing and enjoying the natural hot springs. I don’t really know who made the first move. I think I may have emailed him first. He was actually dating someone else when we met, as was I.
Our relationship developed over trips. He visited and we climbed the Petite Gripon in Rocky Mountain National Park, as well as routes at Lumpy Ridge. I visited him and we climbed the Central Pillar of Frenzy in Yosemite National Park. We both have always sought out a life elevated by adventure, but grounded with intellectual pursuits, and we seemed to embody that for each other.
[bctt tweet=”We saught a life elevated by adventure but grounded with intellectual pursuits. ” username=”ParentVoiceMag”]
Tell us about your cultural backgrounds.
Born in the Bay Area to parents of various European and Mexican ancestry, I grew up in Utah, which played a considerable role in shaping my cultural identity. Being a member of the counterculture in Mormon-dominated Utah, I was shaped by Mormon culture and values but often felt like an outsider. Victor was born in San Francisco to Chinese-born parents. Victor felt that he grew up as an American, but was somehow still an outsider. Perhaps our mutual understanding of being both part and yet apart from the dominant culture united us.
Photo Courtesy of Amber Bilak Yip
Tell us about the dating challenges you may have faced.
One of the challenges we faced early on revolved around standards of modesty. I have always been really comfortable in my skin. If someone has a problem with what I am wearing, I really feel like it is their problem, not mine. Part of this arose from growing up in Utah and needing to define me apart from very modest Mormon culture. It is really part of my identity to feel that I can show some skin if I want. However, traditional Chinese culture can be very modest and emphasizes, in particular, covering up from the neck down. It took Victor a while to realize that I am not trying to attract someone else if I wear a v-neck shirt.
[bctt tweet=” One of the challenges we faced early on revolved around standards of modesty. ” username=”ParentVoiceMag”]
What were your family and friends’ thoughts about you dating/being in a relationship?
My immediate family is very accepting, and whatever my choice was, they would stand behind it. Some of my more distant family might be covertly racist, but they wouldn’t dare say anything in front of us, and they are always superficially polite. I imagine that was hard for Victor when he went to our family reunion. Like many Chinese families, Victor’s parents would probably have preferred that he marry a Chinese woman. [perfectpullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” size=””]While his dad and I get along, I do not get along with his mom to this day. [/perfectpullquote]
The rest of his family is pretty diverse, many have married non-Chinese, so fortunately for me, I wasn’t doing the work of breaking them in.
How did you/your partner propose? How is this similar to or different from your native culture?
There wasn’t really a proposal on either end. We just decided to get married. This was moderately disappointing to me because I always wanted a ring or something, but Victor isn’t into that stuff. I don’t think that is cultural though, outside of the particular culture of his immediate family.
Photo Courtesy of Amber Bilak Yip
What were your ideas of an ideal mate before you met your significant other and how have these evolved with your relationship? Did your families approve/not approve of each other and what you did/didn’t do about it?
Victor and I are really on the same page with a lot of big picture stuff, like our politics, our ideals, our education, and our lack of adherence to a religious tradition, and I think that the importance of these things has not changed for me. Sometimes I wish we were a little more similar in our day to day habits, like keeping the house clean or being organized.
What did you think about being an interracial couple? When the topic of race comes up (if it does), what is it usually about and how do you negotiate and navigate those discussions?
[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” size=””]I have never been sure what proportion of our disagreements come from “cultural” differences, and what proportion come from the ordinary struggles any married couple faces of integrating different families and backgrounds.[/perfectpullquote]
Perhaps because Victor was born in the US, we were even both west coast, we have very similar broad worldviews but just disagree on like, how clean our house should be. One difference may be rooted in the culture that has caused some friction is that I am obsessively neat, I actually feel anxiety when I see clutter and dirt. Victor, like many Chinese, and like his parents, is somewhat of a hoarder, and he wants to keep everything.
I feel like we try to make room for both, and somehow reach, if not a compromise, a place both people can live with.
Photo Courtesy of Amber Bilak Yip
What kind of a wedding did you have? Any arguments about what traditions/customs would be followed or not?
We had reserved a venue and started making plans for a wedding when I found out I was pregnant! Rather than try to get married a few weeks after giving birth, we decided to elope to the county clerk’s office. It was a relief, and I don’t regret it. I think our main argument up till that point was that Chinese weddings are huge, you invite everyone who was ever in your life, and I wanted something smaller and more intimate. We ended up side-stepping all that though.
[bctt tweet=”We decided to elope. It was a relief, and I don’t regret it.” username=”ParentVoiceMag”]
[bctt tweet=”In Chinese weddings, you invite everyone who was ever in your life. I wanted something more intimate. ” username=”ParentVoiceMag”]
Your favorite memories that pertain to cultural integration (generally in your relationship and not just wedding related)
One of my favorite things about being part of Victor’s family is how important food is. A few times a year the whole family will gather at a Chinese restaurant and have one of those eight-course meals. I literally don’t eat anything the entire day so I can have enough room to try everything. We take up three or four tables, and the kids run around and get underfoot, it is a lot of fun.
How do you (or don’t) try to integrate your different cultures/festivities/holidays/ into your everyday life?
Victor’s family celebrates Chinese New Year together with his Grandma’s Birthday, a few weeks after the actual Chinese New Year. We also all gather for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Both our families aren’t too into holiday traditions, just use holidays as an excuse for getting the family together.
What have you learned as a multicultural couple, about each other/ about society’s perception of you as an interracial couple?
Living in the Bay Area, which is quite diverse and presumably blase about mixed-race couples, the two things I have noticed about being an interracial family is that first, people say weird but well-meaning things about our daughter (like oh, she is so beautiful — Asian and white is such a nice mix) or ask whether she is “mixed.”
As someone who doesn’t want to measure her daughter’s value in “beauty”, I find it hard to be appreciative of these well-meaning comments. Second, after seeing our daughter, some Asians will be quite curious about who my husband is, and then I get what feels like intrusive attention. One of many examples, maybe it was a language thing, but a Chinese man got really excited when I admitted that my husband was Chinese and made an inappropriate remark about how I liked Chinese men. When we still lived in Boulder, most (white) people assumed that our daughter was adopted, and I had a number of awkward interactions revolving around that.
[bctt tweet=”Most (white) people assumed that our daughter was adopted.” username=”ParentVoiceMag”]
[bctt tweet=”People say things like, Oh, your daughter is so beautiful –Asian and white is such a nice mix.” username=”ParentVoiceMag”]
What are some pieces of advice you may want to pass on to those dating outside their own race/culture/religion/etc?
Looking back on our courtship, I noticed that I was willing to overlook things in Victor “because of his culture” that I would not overlook in a white guy. This is both an advantage and a disadvantage. So my advice to interracial couples would actually be the same as my advice to ANY couple. Make sure you get to really know the person before you commit to them. Get the hard questions out of the way at the beginning. And make sure you can live with the person they are when they wake up, when they go to bed when they get woken up in the middle of the night, when they are in a terrible mood, because that is who you will live with!
[bctt tweet=”I overlooked things in my husband because of his culture that I would not in a white guy.” username=”ParentVoiceMag”]
“There is no greater challenge than love.” -Osho Indore
Hema Nataraju coordinated this interview.