SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2009       Personal Memory Ethnographies

Todd Kopp

The Engagement

I was visiting the parents of my newly acquired fiancée as the topic of our engagement came up. This topic made me see the biggest racial and sexual difference I have ever experienced in my life because my fiancée, Evelyn, is of a Hispanic background while I am simply white American. The fear of our marriage being rejected by her parents scared me so that my palms became clammy with sweat and my heart raced inside my chest. The only thing that kept me from dying was the feeling of my fiancée’s hand as she sat beside me. Her parents began their interrogation gradually as they sat across from me on bar stools, with me on a fairly uncomfortable couch.

Her parents began by asking me if I knew for sure that I was ready to get married, to this I answered “yes”. They seemed to ponder upon my words a bit before hatching what they would say next. I remember them stating that they believed I was ready, but were unsure whether or not their daughter was. I remember they laughed as they mentioned the fact that my fiancée hardly ever cleaned, as though they were mocking the ridiculousness of the situation. They asked me if I knew what I was getting into, as if they were secretly wondering whether or not their daughter had lied to me. I knew this must have been their thinking when they asked me if she had said she was a good cook in the kitchen, or an extremely clean person, or even if she told me about her career aspirations. I was awestruck that the questions they were interrogating me with were extremely sexist in nature. They imagined that, since I was a man, I would expect “my woman” to be good at simply cooking and cleaning. In my mind I do not see a limit for women of any culture. I do not believe that women belong in the house taking care of children, cooking for me, cleaning for me, caring for my every desire. Unless this is something they want to do. But I could both hear and see the seriousness by which my fiancée’s parents were asking their questions.

After what I believe to be their sexist remarks towards my fiancée, I remember the blood boiling in my veins. I wanted to give them a piece of my mind and let them know that they were all wrong about their daughter. I wanted to let them know that a good wife is not measured by cooking or cleaning skills. I wanted them to understand, from my American point of view, that their cultural views of a woman’s position were incorrect. But I held it in. Instead, I declared that she was perfect for me and that we would live happily together.

As the father of my daughter I was not going to let her be married unless she was ready to live the correct way. I tried to explain to Todd that my daughter wasn’t ready for marriage but he was much too ignorant to listen, it seemed that every valid argument I tossed his way got shot down without the slightest consideration. One of the biggest arguments is that my daughter does not possess the necessary qualities for a successful marriage; she can't cook very well, she hardly cleans, and she seems too independent instead of focused strictly on the family. When I tried to explain this to Todd, he just stated, “I don’t care if she possesses any of those skills”, and “well, she is perfect for me”. He was being highly ignorant of the fact that our daughter was raised in a Mexican culture, and that she had better live accordingly, just like her mother. There is no way that we are going to give up our culture, our breath, our belief system without a fight.

Once silence fell between us, Todd and Evelyn left the dimly lit room, what once was afternoon was now nightfall.

When we escaped I asked my fiancé what her parents’ views were all about. She told me that in her parents’ culture they believe that the woman’s place was in the home. Apparently her father and mother are both first generation Americans and thus have not grasped any ideas outside of their own culture. I then changed the subject, but the memory will live with me always.

Throughout my life I have always seen women as equals, especially since my mom was the single parent to raise and take care of me. Women’s rights movements were a significant help in my beliefs, and events such as 1920 when women got the right to vote and more recently in 1999 when women could sue for sexual harassment. My fiancées parents’ views of women went against my grain of thought in every possible way. Whether or not it was the traditional Mexican culture that spurred the values I heard that day, this view showed a glimpse into the “borderlands” of both gender and ethnicity. The issues I faced during this event are never going to leave, for I will soon be sharing a life with my fiancée and consequently her family. I will constantly have to have to be vigilant of the borderlands and tread carefully.


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