Hassan Agyei, a senior environmental science major, said he knew his African-American family would have mixed reactions to him dating his Filipina girlfriend, senior communications major Johanna DeGuzman, but he did not realize the judgement they would face from those who don’t know them.
“For us, we kind of went into it knowing our families, we established ‘my mom or dad is gonna act this way’ or ‘your mom and dad are gonna act that way,’” Agyei said. “It was more so in public like walking around in the mall you just feel random stares here and there and I never noticed that before when I was walking or in past relationships.”
Three interracial couples answered questions about what it means to date other races in 2016 at a panel held March 24.
Multicultural Involvement and Community Outreach hosted the event Loving Day: Beyond Racial Boundaries, as a part of multiracial heritage month, a month dedicated to advocacy and outreach for those who consider themselves multiracial or multicultural. The theme for this year is “Voices Beneath the Surface,” which “speaks to the idea of getting race off appearance and the body and instead focusing on the lives experienced through narrative,” according to MICA.
Loving Day celebrates the anniversary of the passing of Love v. Virginia, a decision that lifted the ban on interracial marriage in the U.S. in 1967. Although Love Day is not until June 12, the panel highlighted the freedom that decisions like Love v. Virginia gave them, while also talking about the microaggressions and prejudice that sometimes come with being in an interracial relationship.
Something almost all of the couples agreed on was the differences in their relationships from race did not stem from each other, but from their families.
Freshman criminal justice and criminology major Lexi Vipavetz, who identifies as white, said the differences in her and her boyfriend Devon Haynes’, who identifies as black, upbringings and race became more prevalent due to their families.
“My parents and immediate family is okay with me dating interracially,” Vipavetz said. “But my mom always told me to kind of keep it low key around aunts and uncles and grandparents and stuff just because some of them are more conservative, and I know we should be past those times, they wouldn’t disapprove but it would just be gossip.”
DeGuzman echoed this sentiment, saying her family in the Philippines has come around to her dating Agyei.
“The questions I get [from my extended family] are kind of out of curiosity,” she said. “I wouldn’t say they’re negative thoughts, but they’re viewing interracial relationships, at least in my family, as something new to them and something they want to learn about. Because it’s not like they’re asking ‘why are you with him?’ They’re asking more so about his culture.”
Another topic discussed was how interracial relationships are becoming more commonplace, but not necessarily more accepted.
Graduate student Jaqueline Neri-Arias said seeing other Latina-black interracial couples, like hers with her boyfriend Guy Hatch, gives her hope acceptance will continue to increase.
“Whenever I see another interracial relationship, it just makes me feel happy that this is something that is happening now,” she said. “Especially people of my culture dating someone outside the culture because it’s not something that is approved of very much; even in 2016, it’s not something you see very much, so I appreciate it a lot.”
Other issues covered were police brutality, how the couples would want to raise biracial children if they were to have them and how diversity, or lack thereof, on campus affects the couples.
Sam Sauter, a senior environmental science and policy major and intern at MICA who moderated the event, said this was the most diverse crowd at a diversity event she had ever seen.
“Getting people who don’t typically come into these types of conversations is really important,” she said, but “we are still trying to figure out how to reach just the typical UMD students.”
Attendee Berothie Seide said she was interested in this event because she doesn’t know if she could ever be in a interracial relationship with someone who doesn’t acknowledge their privilege or try to understand racial issues.
“A lot of people want to take [racial] situations and just say ‘it’s too deep’ and just brush it under the rug and just think it’s gonna go away, and [when that happens], people are not gonna know how to address it and how to fix it,” she said.
She also criticized members of the community who “show face” to diversity events just for credit, rather than to actually learn. “You’re not really listening or trying to change anything or learn anything to benefit anything, your community, your peers, yourself whatsoever; it’s just a show,” she said. “Being aware of your community is not a trend, it’s real, people are suffering.=
Audience member Hengelh Ramirez agreed. “Eventually when you keep something bottled up, it’ll explode, so I think it’s better for us to express it now and be patient and really try to understand each other and not belittle anyone’s struggle.”
DeGuzman, who is the director of diversity of inclusion for the Student Government Association, said “you get the same people at every single diversity event … you never get the people who need to be in the room, who need to have the conversation there.”
She stressed the importance of having people from all walks of life at events like this to create an open dialogue about race on campus.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of lindsaystewart’s Pixabay account.
Kira Sansone is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.