Interracial couple overcomes family pressure to tie the knot

By Pham Nga   January 8, 2023 | 02:44 am PT
Thanh Nhan and Manbir Singh married against both their families' wishes. Things have worked out so far, but not without trial and tribulation.

Nhan, a 25-year-old Vietnamese woman living in Australia, said that both her Vietnamese family and her fiancee's Indian-Australian family opposed the couple marrying outside their own cultures. Things were especially awkward when each side learned about the other’s wedding customs.

According to Indian wedding traditions, Nhan's family must buy each of her spouses cousins a new set of bedding. The amount Nhan then had to spend on these gifts totaled nearly $8,000.

"Money is one thing, but according to their tradition, my family must offer gifts to the groom's family as a way of asking them to [accept me into the] marriage," Nhan said of her 2019 wedding preparations. "My parents would never approve of that."

But this was not the first cultural storm Nhan and 33-year old Manbir Singh had weathered during their two-year relationship.

The good times rolled...and then...

Singh and Nhan met in 2017 while studying nursing at the same university in Australia.

They were also interning at the same nursing home, but didn't meet until the internship's final farewell lunch.

As she ate her food, a 27-year-old man approached Nhan and asked: "Does your culture allow a woman to marry a foreigner?"

Thanh Nhan and Manbir Singh. Photo courtesy of Nhan

Thanh Nhan and Manbir Singh. Photo courtesy of Nhan

The Vietnamese student, who arrived in Australia at the age of 15, was amazed but smiled and nodded. So, the couple was soon communicated via text message and became close friends back at school after their internship.

Singh would often be driving is car home after a long day studies and see Nhan strolling down the street alone. He would always stop to say hello. They started making appointments to study together in the library, but soon they were meeting there without appointments, showing up at the same time as if communicating telepathically.

These and many other coincidences made Nhan's heart skip a beat.

For Singh, it was Nhan's smile that made his heart melt.

"The work of caring for the elderly at the hospital was very hard, but she was always smiling and very dedicated," he said.

As a young man, Singh had always aspired to find a kind mother for his future children, partially because he himself had lost his mother at an early age. When he observed Nhan and the way she moved through life gracefully, he felt he had found the wonderful person he was looking for, he said.

The road of life is rocky

Four months after their first meeting, Singh returned home to attend his brother's wedding. He texted her and told her, "relatives keep asking me when I'll bring my girlfriend back."

Nhan said: "You can bring me back next time." Finally knowing that his girlfriend was willing to give their relationship a long-term shot, Singh confessed his love for Nhan.

Nhan's parents, however, refused to allow her to marry a foreigner. Her Christian family desired that she marry someone of the same faith.

Doan Thi Nga, Nhan's mother, said that she saw in Indian films that Indian people still have many patriarchal norms and their women are unhappy, and she didn't want her children to go down the wrong path.

"I sobbed all the time when I found out my daughter had a boyfriend," she stated.

Singh's father was likewise adamantly opposed. Because his family is Sikh, they desired an Indian wife. The father is a former director of an Indian bank, and the stepmother is a teacher, and they both wanted their son to marry someone from the same social status.

"Dad didn't talk to me for three months, even though we both lived in Australia," Singh said.

Thanh Nhan and her husband wear traditional attire ao dai during their wedding ceremony in Vietnam. Photo courtesy of Nhan

Thanh Nhan and her husband wear traditional attire ao dai during their wedding ceremony in Vietnam. Photo courtesy of Nhan

With family in Vietnam, Nhan had the exact same problem:

Her father Tran Minh Trinh, 65, advised her many times to cancel the relationship. But then after one last time of failing, he couldn’t take it anymore and hung up on her. The father and daughter did not speak to each other for a month.

Nhan was bewildered. Now she didn’t fit into either family and felt completely alone. She cried many nights when she learned that her lover's family sometimes sent online profiles of prospective girls for him to date.

"His brother also got married through matchmaking. I tried my best [to stay with Singh], but I didn’t know if he was really trying with me," Nhan said.

Every day, Singh began driving by his girlfriend's house to see her before going to work. He refused all the matchmaking proposals sent by relatives. With the help of his Australian relatives, Singh persuaded his parents to let him be with his lover instead of choosing an arranged marriage.

Feeling the love of her boyfriend, Nhan learned to keep trying as well. She practiced cooking Indian dishes and tried to get closer to her boyfriend's family and learn more about their culture. Nhan also asked relatives living in Australia to convince her parents to support her love.

One relative finally convinced her father by asking him Trinh: "Would you rather let your child marry an Indian man, or would you rather lose her?"

The question made Nhan’s father change his mind.

"It's okay to prevent anything but the heart," Trinh admitted. Instead of stopping his daughter, he shared with Singh the rules of Christian marriage. The Indian man showed sincerity by going to catechism.

Singh also persuaded his father to meet Nhan’s family through a video call to introduce them. The groom's family agreed on the marriage when they found out Nhan's father was a doctor with his own clinic.

"Perhaps my father, like your father, did not want to lose his child, since he knew we’d been going steady for a long time," Singh said to his girlfriend.

The two families discussed the marriage. Singh's father was terrified because, according to Vietnamese tradition, the groom's family did not receive gifts but was required to send a dowry to the woman's family. Trinh was also upset in Vietnam since, according to Indian culture, the bride had to present gifts to request the groom's marriage.

"If you want me to bring the bride to the groom's house, then you have to come to Vietnam," Trinh told his future son-in-law.

Wanting to marry Nhan but also please parents on both sides, Singh sent money to his relatives and asked them to buy the gifts themselves. Nhan’s father then advised his son-in-law to conduct full wedding ceremonies at churches in Australia and Vietnam. But he also recommended that when they get married in India, they skip the betrothal ceremony to avoid conflicts about the different cultural beliefs about dowries.

"The most important thing is the children's affection," he told to the groom's family. "But we must also somehow adhere to the traditions of the nation in which we live."

Eventually the two families united and held impeccable weddings in three countries. At the wedding in India, Singh’s relative broke his leg, and Trinh, a traditional Chinese medicine doctor, treated the man.

"Thanks to that, the two sides are closer... Our parents became friends," Singh said.

Smooth sailing just a quiet before the storm?

But Nhan soon after the wedding, Nhan began questioning whether or not she’d done the right thing.

"We have too many differences in culture," Thanh Nhan said.

Singh wants to share a house in Australia with his brother's family. Nhan felt uneasy about that.

Then there were other simple logistics problems with the two families living so far apart: when Singh’s parents visited Australia from India to meet their grandchild, they planned to remain for a year. But they were forced to stay in Australia for three years due to the pandemic.

So the house was crowded and Nhan felt like a stranger in a strange land.

It was hard for her not to became bothered by the differences in lifestyle and language. While she lived in Australia with her husband's family, they all conversed in Hindi and she felt desperately out of place. Alone again.

She disliked wearing shoes inside the home, but everyone else did so in Australia. Nhan wanted to open the curtains to make the home light and breezy, but her husband's family preferred to keep things private.

"After two months of marriage, I realized that my parents' initial concerns were correct," she said.

Soon enough, the happy couple began quarrelling regularly. Singh called for help from his parents-in-law.

"When I told you [what would happen], you didn't listen," said Nhan’s father. "You’ve only been together for a few days and you’re already asking for a divorce?!" The father-in-law was now scolding his son-in-law.

Thanh Nhan (carrying the child) poses for a photo with her husband and family-in-law during a Christmas dinner in Australia on December 24, 2022. Photo courtesy of Nhan

Thanh Nhan (carrying the child) poses for a photo with her husband and family-in-law during a Christmas dinner in Australia on December 24, 2022. Photo courtesy of Nhan

He encouraged the children to rethink their decision to live together, cancel their egos, and focus on staying married to each other while avoiding the trap of becoming too wedded to traditional customs.

Singh decided to move Nhan and their small family out of his brother’s house. He knew the marriage was at risk of failing if they continued to stay there.

But even then, Nhan had to restructure herself – as did both her son Singh – to fit in with each other’s new lives.

Even though Singh and his new family did not share the same faith, he and his son went to church to pray, and Nhan came along too. Nhan would wear traditional Indian attire when she accompanied her husband to the temple. At Indian festivals, she went shopping with him and assisted him with traditional household chores.

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