So much of Mindr's identity comes from its birthplace of New York City, which former Mayor David Dinkins loved to call a "gorgeous mosaic of race and religious faith, of national origin and sexual orientation." And we love nothing more than the stories of families who bridge gaps between backgrounds and cultures. Today, #MINDRMAMA Edil Cuepo reflects on a marriage her traditional Filipino family might not have expected, and the beauty that stems from it.
My family is multi-cultural. I am a brown-skinned Asian who is Catholic and my husband, Ben, is a white Jewish American. We are two different people who have come from different backgrounds but as we have grown into a happy family, we have discovered how similar we truly are. The keys to making our family work are love, kindness and curiosity.
Growing up in the Philippines, everyone I was friends with was Asian. When I first moved here, I did not know what to expect and it was hard for me to relate to or see myself connecting with people outside of my race. If someone told me 10 years ago that I would be happily married to someone who’s not Filipino, I would not have believed it, and yet here I am today.
Thank God for New York City. My favorite part about this city is its diversity. Everywhere you go - people are unique to themselves, speaking a multitude of different languages and sharing their individual cultural stories. I truly believe that moving to New York prepared my heart and opened my mind to finding my one true love. Let’s face it, it can be hard to fall in love with a person who is very different from you. I feel like we sometimes subconsciously close ourselves off to the possibility of being with someone whose background we are not familiar with.
When Ben and I first met, we felt an instant connection and because we happened to have found each other in a neutral environment (an Irish bar in Murray Hill), our race or religion was not the focal point of our first conversation. We exchanged jokes, shared anecdotes about our personal lives, and talked about our families. We fell in love based on who we are as people, not our color or our faith. From day one, we let our love for each other lead us into our acceptance of each other’s background.
Just as we let love lead in our relationship, kindness closely follows. In our family, kindness is rooted in respect and consideration for others’ beliefs and traditions. We label our family as “interfaith,” which to us means not just Jewish and not just Christian. Our family is both and it is important to us that our 21-month old daughter, June, knows and celebrates both religions as she grows.
We label our family as “interfaith,” which to us means not just Jewish and not just Christian. Our family is both.
June is baptized Catholic and I take her to church with me every Sunday. Having gone to Catholic school my whole life (including for University), I observe all of our rituals. However, more than Catholic traditions, I want June to experience and to grow up with faith in her life and an open relationship with God.
Ben’s Jewish upbringing was more cultural than religious. We celebrate his Jewish culture and share many traditions with his side of the family. For example, Ben’s grandmother Ruth, a Holocaust survivor, bakes mandel bread and apple cake for June and her cousins. Passing down this recipe to her great grandchildren is rooted in love and kindness. We try to be at her house for Shabbat and go to temple during the high holidays. By showing kindness towards the important parts of us that are different, we are able to appreciate each other more.
Curiosity is the wind that pushes forward the sail of understanding one another’s race and religion. It is critical to be curious and eager to learn more about your partner’s background in order to truly appreciate them as a person. This is the only way to make a multicultural marriage work.
I would often joke with a couple of my girlfriends (who are also married to husbands who do not speak their native language) about how it can be challenging sometimes to truly share ourselves with our husbands when they do not speak our native tongue. There are certain words from different languages that do not easily translate into English. For example, Filipinos use Filipoino puns a lot in their jokes and, as a result, jokes I make when I’m with Filipino friends would not make sense if I attempted them in English. Modesty aside, I’m a lot more funny when I’m telling my Tagalog jokes! But it helps that Ben is supportive of all my comedic routines.
Ben’s curiosity and openness towards Filipino culture are some of my favorite qualities he possesses. I love when he craves Filipino food just like I do. He impresses me every time he spots a Filipino “tita” or aunt (older lady) from a mile away. We have traveled around the Philippines a few times and it makes me so proud to watch how he interacts with my relatives and friends just like he would talk and treat his own family and friends.
Meanwhile, I am grateful to have a very close relationship with my in-laws. Having lost my mother early in life, I could not imagine going through my first years of motherhood without my mother-in-law. She taught me pretty much everything I needed to know - from how to bathe a newborn to embracing every moment of being home with June. She is an incredible woman and I am lucky to have her in my life.
Having lost my mother early in life, I could not imagine going through my first years of motherhood without my mother-in-law. She taught me pretty much everything I needed to know.
Sometimes, a lack of understanding of a partner’s race/religion/culture can open one up to feelings of isolation. When not addressed, these feelings can progress into resentment. This is why I believe it is so important for multicultural families to be as open and curious about each other as possible.
We all have a unique opportunity to become interfaith and multicultural. Being surrounded by diversity in a place like New York City, we interact with people who may speak a different language or come from a place you've never been and we learn from one another. I guess the challenge is - if you’re up for it - to go beyond co-existing and move towards connectedness. We can all decide to embrace love, kindness and curiosity towards everyone.
As we raise June, we want to make sure we instill these three values in her. We want to teach her to be loving, not only to people who look like her mom and dad, but to everyone she comes across. The recent outrage over the separation of families at the U.S-Mexico border has brought into focus the importance of using every opportunity to spread and promote love towards one another - regardless of race, religion and country of origin.
Moving to New York City turned out to be the biggest blessing for me and I can only hope that perhaps, people both within and outside of diverse cities can find ways to become familiar with and relate to others who are different from them. Because the truth is, one does not need to be married to another person or adopt a child from a different culture to become multicultural. We can choose to become interfaith and multicultural in our hearts and take the opportunity to live more harmoniously with all those around us.
#MINDRMAMA Edil Cuepo is a work-from-home mom to gorgeous 21-month-old June. They live in Rockaway Beach, NYC.