Get to know our February How We Met couple, Sara and Javier. Sara has a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and works as an Interface Designer for a financial software company. Javier has Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Business Administration from Universidad Politecnica de Madrid and Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management respectively. He is also the co-founder of a professional networking organization for Spaniards in Chicago, Profesionales Espanoles en Chicago.
Over to Sara and Javier.
Tell us – how did you meet? Give us all the fun details. First impressions? What attracted you to each other? Etc.
We first met back in 2008, when Javier was a flatmate of Sara’s friend in Logan Square, and Sara’s was visiting her friend at the flat. It was a brief encounter and both of us didn’t really make an impression on each other. We were also dating other people at the time, but because of our friend in common, we saw each other a lot throughout the summer at various parties and events. However, we were always with the people we were dating: Sara was dating someone from Brazil, and Javier was dating someone from Colombia. Our circle of friends came from all parts of the world…only one of our friends was not a zero or first generation immigrant.
Then in 2010, on Halloween, we ran into each other at a party with friends after about a year with no contact, and this time we were both single. It came as a surprise to us that we got along so well. Javier says he was attracted to Sara’s maturity, intelligence, and animated personality. Sara says she was attracted to Javier’s thoughtfulness, intelligence, and MacGyver-type personality.
Tell us about you and your partner’s cultural backgrounds.
Sara: I was born in Taipei, Taiwan then immigrated with my parents to Southern California when I was 10. I started in 4th grade (without knowing a word in English), then went on to attend the local public middle and high schools near our house. Between high school graduation and starting college, I did a year of study abroad in Germany where I lived with a host family and attended the local high school. That year in Germany was when I realized that I was becoming more American. After Germany, I started college in Chicago, and during my senior year, I did another study abroad for a quarter in Spain. As a result of living in all these places, I’ve never felt that I belong to a specific location or culture, instead I feel that I am a citizen of the world.
Javier: I am from a small town in Spain, where the main industry is agriculture. I went to college in Madrid, then came to Chicago in 2007 to pursue a Master’s degree in Operations. After the program, I found a job in Chicago, and I have been here ever since.
Tell us about the dating challenges you may have faced. What were your parents’/family/relatives/friends’ thoughts about you dating/being in a relationship? What did you think about being part of an interracial/international couple?
Personally, I have never thought much about being in an interracial/international relationship, but I think because I crave new experiences, I was naturally intrigued by boyfriends who can show me different worlds.
Sara: My first boyfriend was Polish, followed by boyfriends that were Americans, Brazilian, and Armenian, so cultural background was not an issue to me. The reason those relationships didn’t work out was purely due to personality clashes. None of my parents/relatives/friends said anything about my relationships, if anything I think my grandmother and a couple of my friends said not to rush into dating, and to take my time. Personally, I have never thought much about being in an interracial/international relationship, but I think because I crave new experiences, I was naturally intrigued by boyfriends who can show me different worlds.
Javier: My family did not mind about me being in a relationship with someone of another culture/race. But I think me being with someone from the USA has made them come to the sad realization that I would most likely stay here, and if we were to have kids, they would probably not see them much.
Related to # 4 – Did your families approve/not approve of each other (include any memorable first meeting memories) and what you did/didn’t do about it?
Because both of our families are not around (Sara’s family are in California & Taiwan; Javier’s family are all in Spain), so when we do see them it is usually for a short amount of time. Therefore, we have not run into any disapprovals with each other’s families. Overall, our families approve of our relationship.
How did you/your partner propose? How is this similar to or different from your native culture?
The idea came up one weekend afternoon when we were on a walk around the neighborhood. Ever since we started dating, our life together feels very natural, as if it was always this way, so we just casually started talking about establishing a life together and getting married. We are both very much our own person, there isn’t any cultural baggage that we carry around, and our families are not into traditions either, so there wasn’t any cultural template that we felt we needed to follow.
What were your ideas of an ideal mate before you met your significant other and how have these ideals evolved with your relationship?
Sara: I didn’t have an ideal mate in mind, but Javier has shown me over time that he is my ideal mate, because he is patient, understanding, and loving. He is the Ying to my Yang in so many ways that can’t be described, it can only be felt by every second that we are together.
Javier: Someone that is my friend, with whom with whom we can have a relationship of equals, independently of race or culture.
What have been the cultural challenges, if any, that you have faced in the course of your relationship?
Sara: Since I don’t speak Spanish, and Javier’s family doesn’t speak English, it has been quite boring sometimes sitting with the family, and it was hard to not feel excluded somehow in the beginning because I didn’t know what people were saying. Now that expectations have been set, it’s a lot easier, and I usually just busy myself with reading or doing something else.
Javier: Finances are already the #1 reason why couples argue, and having grown up with significantly different values can accentuate the issues. Even though with Taiwanese influence, Sara has grown up with significant American values, while Javier was raised in the much more frugal Spain. The gap can be significant when having to choose a new home, but it is also important in the day to day.
How do you handle cultural conflicts/differences (when you dated, and after marriage)?
We talk about it, so the other person is aware, even if we don’t find a solution for it every single time. There are some things that we just have to accept as integral to the other person, and decide at the end of the day if it’s a deal-breaker or not. If not, we try to make the best of the situation, and live with it.
What kind of a wedding did you have? Any arguments about what traditions/customs would be followed or not?
We did not have a wedding. We were lucky that none of our families felt the need to follow traditions, and no one pressured us to have a wedding, so we decided to use that money for other purposes instead. We have invested that money in purchasing our current house, and another investment property. Also taking vacation trips whenever we want. Our thinking is, if in the future, we want to throw a celebration party for our family and friends, we can always do that. Our marriage isn’t going anywhere, but it’s more important to invest our money now while we are still young, and just starting our life together.
What are your favorite memories that pertain to cultural integration (generally in your relationship and not just wedding related)?
Sara: When Javier’s aunt and uncle prepared a picnic basket (with homemade chorizo) and took us to a Roman ruin near Javier’s hometown to have a picnic.
Javier: Participating in her grandma’s birthday in California.
How do you (or don’t) try to integrate your different cultures/festivities/holidays/etc. into your everyday life?
We don’t really try to integrate any cultural festivities into our everyday life, since we don’t have families in Chicago, for most of the year we are free to do whatever we want, so if friends invite us to their festivities, we go. But at home, we are usually too busy with other things to do anything festive. For Christmas and New Year’s we are usually visiting Javier’s family in Spain, or we go on vacation somewhere.
What have you learned as a multicultural couple, about each other/ about society’s perception of you as an interracial couple?
This is an interesting question for us…because we don’t see us as an interracial couple. Almost all of our friends and coworkers are international and in interracial relationships. When we were in college, interracial couples were the norm as well, so we are not sure what is society’s perception about us. But we do know among friends, we are the odd couple. We are very different in our personalities, our lifestyles, our preferences, but somehow it all just works to build a life together.
We don’t see us as an interracial couple. Almost all of our friends and coworkers are international and in interracial relationships.
What are some pieces of advice you may want to pass on to those dating outside their own race/culture/religion/etc.
Sara: Stay open-minded and non-judgmental. Don’t try to make the other person someone they are not.
Javier: You need to try to understand the background from your partner’s point of view before you argue or arrive at a solution.
Jessica Colman-Cheng contributed to and coordinated this interview.