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Transnationalizing Marriage

By Robbieana Leung

A highly talked about issue in the West regarding India is the prevalence of arranged marriages. Due to its stark contrast with marriage practices in North America, Western eyes find it a very difficult concept to come to terms with, and commonly view the Indian system as “backward” and repressive towards women. In the article, “Arranging a Marriage in India”, Serena Nanda provides both Western and Indian points of view towards Indian traditional marriages and the basic dynamics of the custom, such as how gender roles and caste plays into the system.

My grasp of the two perspectives was challenged when I went to the Five Star Ethnic Village Resort Hotel in Agra, and saw a wedding ceremony. Live musicians played Indian music, while women in colorful, beaded saris and men in black suits danced in the center, illuminated by the brightness of a video camera that captured the festive celebration. Colorful chalk designs were drawn on the floor and orange flower garlands hung on the garden lights that lined up with the side walk.

I was intrigued that many of the men wearing Western style suits were Indian and several women in saris were Caucasian. I surmised that the Caucasian ladies are probably friends of the newly wed Indian couple who invited them to witness a traditional Indian wedding ceremony. It was not until a lady introduced herself as the mother of the Caucasian bride, and mother in law of the Indian groom, did I realize how incorrect and stereotypical my thoughts were. This was a cross cultural marriage, and the Caucasian ladies in saris were not merely guests but actual family members of the newly weds.

It was a fascinating, beautiful ceremony. At the traditional Indian wedding ceremony, in the middle of the lawn, there was a big screen that projected the couple’s first wedding, which had been performed Western style, complete with a reverend, tuxedo and white gown. Had I drawn conclusions from my own observations without talking to the bride’s mother, I would have never known the couples’ diverse ethnicities or that the couple in the clip was the same as the one I now saw at the Indian wedding. Prior to meeting the bride’s mother, the cultural clothes and ceremony styles of the two weddings gave me a misguided, narrow impression that the couple was of the same ethnicity as their clothes and each other.

I was intrigued by the notion of a cross cultural marriage, especially between an Indian and American. Nanda’s article had portrayed the two cultures as completely opposite - so contrary that it was difficult to imagine how the two families balanced cultural clashes, especially with respect to modernization and globalization. When thinking about the effects of globalization on a traditional system that is still so commonly practiced in “modernized” India today, I realized that in a sense, the cross cultural marriage I witnessed had created a new breed of marriage ceremonies. It was not purely Western or Indian, but a mixture of both. This new breed reflected the effects of globalization, the intertwining of cultures, as it took pieces of both cultures and created a new, transnational subculture.

Still, I wondered about the initial reactions of both families when they heard about their child’s choice of partner. Given that arranged marriages are still prevalent in India, what did the groom’s family think when he first announced his bride was American? Did his bride endure rigid scrutiny from his family, similar to the process illustrated in Nanda’s article? Or did they accept modern ideas of choosing one’s own spouse? How did caste play a part in the wedding, if the bride did not even have a caste? Would the marriage work, since each family had contrasting expectations and values, such as the vital issue of gender roles? While I do not know the difficulties the families may have endured while tolerating and accepting the others’ culture, I am confident that the marriage I witnessed would be successful because of the main unifying factor of Indian and Western marriage practices: families have their childrens’ best interest at heart.

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