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His parents said, 'Not with a white girl'

By Diane Farr, Special to CNN
Actress Diane Farr poses for a family portrait with her husband, Seung Yong, and their three children.
Actress Diane Farr poses for a family portrait with her husband, Seung Yong, and their three children.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Diane Farr was surprised to be seen as an undesirable race by boyfriend's family
  • Growing up, Farr battled the prejudice of her parents when dating men of other races
  • Farr looks for a common ground: American culture
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Editor's note: CNN's Defining America project is exploring the stories behind the numbers to show how places are changing. This week, get to know more about your neighbors all across the country -- how they live and love, what they believe in and how they came to call themselves Americans. The week will culminate with a Secret Supper in New York City, and Eatocracy invites you to participate online starting Monday July 11th at 6:30 p.m. ET. Diane Farr is most known for her work as an actress on "Californication", "Numb3rs" and "Rescue Me." Her second book, "Kissing Outside The Lines" has just been released.

(CNN) -- I fell for "The Giant Korean" at a weekend-long destination wedding. I couldn't yet pronounce either of his real names (Seung or Yong) and although his friends called him "Sing," I stuck with the catch phrase my girlfriends and I had coined the first time I met him because, frankly, my nickname captured his presence better.

I had come around to a slight Americanization of his real name by the first time we exchanged "I love yous," but it seemed of little consequence when Seung then added that I would never be welcome in his family's home. Seung had been told, all his life, more or less, that he was not allowed to marry someone like me.

Pronunciation aside, it hadn't occurred to me that Seung and I made a mismatched couple. Mixed-race yes, but I couldn't fathom that my race could make me the "wrong kind of girl" for anyone.

Yes, it was white privilege that blinded me to the fact I might be the bottom of the barrel on someone else's race card.

Perhaps even more so because I have been listening to the dialogue about how to make America more post-racial -- mostly as it pertains to black and white culture -- for so long that it never occurred to me that an Asian immigrant family might cry foul when their son fell in love with an all-American girl like me.

But truthfully, I was blindsided for personal reasons, too. Years before this I had fought with my own mother over our family's prejudices when it came to love.

I had more than one black boyfriend in my twenties, and a few others in shades between olive and dark brown. When my parents said that one of them shouldn't be invited to our holiday table, I stopped showing up also.

That particular boyfriend and I only lasted six months, but I did not visit home for nearly two years until my mother and I agreed that unconditional love meant accepting anyone, of any race, who I chose to spend my life with.

I don't think I took such a stance with my family because I am Joan of Arc incarnate. Rather, aside from this flaw, my parents are kind and generous people.

Parents often have a favorite child

I knew their prejudices came from the ignorance of confusing economics, education and opportunity with culture. But they simultaneously taught me that I had a right to speak up for what I believed and to defend my choices.

I only had the gumption to fight them and eventually end their narrow-mindedness because they showed me so much love.

So I found it particularly saddening to be back in the same mess, 15 years later, dressed in different robes. Even though Seung Yong's family is educated, well traveled and chose to raise their kids in the States. And even though, more to the point, Seung Yong was a grown man.

"You've never told your parents that you get to pick who you love?"

I thought this but I didn't say it out loud. Not at first, anyway.

Instead, when he told me his parents would never let him be with a white girl, I stared into his eyes and smiled. Not because I was feeling his plight but because I'd become cautious of him.

This man I had woken up with earlier in the day now seemed like a stranger to me. Specifically, he seemed like someone of another culture that I didn't know or understand. Which was in fact true, because as much as we had in common, I was completely unaware of what it meant to grow up Asian-American -- both in his home and in the outside world.

But Seung kept talking and what he was saying didn't allow me to recoil for too long. He wanted to be with me, no matter what. He had a plan for how he would address this issue with his parents and he wondered if I was willing to take the leap with him.

His words shut off the alarm bells in my head and I agreed to follow him into the racially slurred forest where we would attempt to change what his parents, and so many, say in private to their kids about a mixed-race marriage.

That turned out to be the most measured discussion Seung and I ever had about his family's belief that marrying me might degrade them by watering down their culture or bloodline. Because it was the only one in which I stayed silent.

Using my words, gently and respectfully, in many, many, many subsequent conversations about how I felt did in fact lead Seung Yong and I to marry -- with the full support of all our parents.

But it was only through continuous dialogue -- at the dinner table with friends who could advise us, and using calm voices in the bedroom with one another, and keeping an open mind on the couch at the therapist's office -- that we were able to find a way to make our familial cultures meet in the middle at our mutual American one.

Seven years later and three half-Asian/half-Caucasian children deep, the discussion of race rarely comes up in our home. But only because we worked so hard to make sure the inconsistencies we were both taught in our parents' homes about what kinds of people were worthy to love would never be a part of our home or life together.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Diane Farr.

 
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