This past weekend Brian and I traveled to Atlantic Beach, North Carolina to participate in my dear friend Erika's wedding. I was part of the bridal party. The beach was beautiful, but the wedding even more so. Erika and Will paid attention to every little detail, and everything was purposeful, thoughtful and full of symbolism. The ceremony was powerful and moving, and they made me think (in a completely good way).
Erika is one of those friends that I don't talk to frequently. It may be months or sometimes years between phone calls, but we pick up where we left off when we do talk and can talk for hours, time permitting. Erika and I know each other from undergrad at UGA. We were in most, if not all, of our Art Education classes together. The groomsman that I was paired with pointed out that I have known Erika for a decade now. (What!? Crazy. But true!)
Erika and Will chose their wedding day very purposefully. It was the anniversary of the Loving v. Virginia (1967) Supreme Court case. June 12. Each member of the wedding party had a reading. Here is what four of us read about the court case:
Few cases were more aptly named than Loving v. Virginia, which pitted an interracial couple – Mildred Jeter, who was black, and her childhood sweetheart, a white construction worker named Richard Loving – against Virginia's "miscegenation" laws banning marriage between blacks and whites.
After marrying in Washington, D.C. and returning to their home state in 1958, the couple was charged with unlawful cohabitation and jailed. They were sentenced to a year in prison, to be suspended if the couple agreed to leave the state for the next 25 years.
The Lovings left Virginia and went to live with relatives in Washington, D.C. When they returned to visit family five years later, they were arrested for traveling together. Inspired by the civil rights movement, Mildred Loving wrote to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy for help.
The couple was referred to the ACLU, which represented them in the landmark Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia (1967). The Court ruled that state bans on interracial marriage were unconstitutional, thus effectively legalizing interracial marriage nationwide. (ACLU Page)
I didn't ask, but I like to think Erika assigned the readings also very purposefully. I read the last section. This fits into everything I have been processing the last year or so. Who am I? Where do I fit culturally - Asian heritage, but American culturally? Is it fair of me to ask my students to explore "identity" when I don't know where I fit culturally? Who am I outside of being an art teacher?
Reading my portion of the court case made me think about my own marriage. To outsiders, I am in an interracial marriage. This is not something I have actively thought about....but, yeah! I am. Again, my heritage is Asian, but culture is Southern American. I've got a southern twang, and I ate gr-iee-ts (aka grits) as a child. I don't think of myself as different than Brian, but we do LOOK different. This brought more questions to mind: Why didn't this occur to me sooner? Are there different social expectations for different cultures?
I remembered times, when as a child, my family was stared and gawked at. Two Caucasian parents and two Asian children. (My sister and I are both adopted) How does that happen? Are they just babysitting those girls? If one of my parents was off doing something, like getting our food or parking the car, the assumption was usually that we were mixed race, and the other parent was Asian. The looks of confusion when the other parent returned were sometimes amusing, sometimes hurtful. I thought about the times I was ridiculed and bashed for being Chinese, but also times I felt accepted and proud. My Asian heritage has been a part of many decisions, like where to go to college; but I do feel separated from the heritage. I should know more. I should be "more" Chinese. Have I somehow compartmentalized my life, to my detriment? Have I forgotten some things that make me who I am?
The chairs were set up in a circle continuing the symbol of a wedding ring being never ending and continuous. The wedding party was standing among guests in the isles. We encircled Erika and Will in the center. We were on the beach (Erika's favorite). Each member of the wedding party read during the ceremony. The wedding was on the anniversary of the Supreme Court Case. Everything was thoughtful and purposeful. Beautiful.
Erika and Will don't know this yet, but through the purposefulness and thoughtfulness of their wedding; they challenged me to be more thoughtful and aware of my own identity.
It was a whirlwind of a weekend, complete with a run on the beach - which almost killed me. Running on sand is TOUGH. - our first AirBnB experience, sunburns because I forgot the sunblock, lots of food, and dancing, tears and laughter. I was honored to be asked to be in the wedding. I am grateful that I was able to witness Erika and Will's love in action.