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Transcending Differences: An American-Indian-American Love Story
Lakshmi Iyer
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Lakshmi Iyer

Managing Editor at the Parent Voice, Magazine
Indian by birth, American by choice, Lakshmi identifies more with the hyphen in Indian-American. Read More under "Meet the Team".
Lakshmi Iyer
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The priest was amazing because he really explained everything he was doing which was very helpful and meaningful to my side of the family.  The ceremony was only 90 minutes and we wore American clothes…

Jill and I met over ten years ago as part of a local adoption support group. We sat across each other at a book store and shared stories about our life. Over the years, I have grown to know Dilip and their growing family ( a boy and a girl) as well. So, when the opportunity to showcase multicultural, interracial families arose, I reached out and Jill and Dilip were happy to share their story.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your cultural background. 

My name is Jill Mahrlig Petigara.  I grew up in a home of mixed European descent, but mostly Italian.  My parents were both raised in the Catholic Church so I was raised Catholic and received all my sacraments except marriage since I married someone of Indian descent and we mutually decided on a modified Hindu wedding.  One of my fondest cultural memories involves food.  My mother and grandmother made homemade sauce, manicotti, and meatballs, and my grandparents always stopped at an Italian bakery on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx to bring us homemade cannolis and other pastries to holiday gatherings at our house in New Jersey.

What were your ideas of an ideal mate?

I met my husband when I was 33 years old and actually had a list of qualities I was looking for in a partner:  Kind, intelligent, funny, generous, compassionate, affectionate and humble are the main qualities that come to mind without going back to my old journals and looking for the list.  Anyway, I was very lucky to have found all of these qualities and more in my husband, Dilip.

Raised Catholic, I received all my sacraments except marriage since I married a man of Indian descent. Click To Tweet

How did you meet your husband?

I was matched with Dilip on [an online dating website] in November of 2003.  Even though I was a yoga teacher and very interested in Indian culture at the time, I had never heard the name Dilip before.  I was unaware he was Indian until we started emailing or talking and it came up in conversation.

What were your first impressions of Dilip?

I fell in love with Dilip before we met in person.  I just loved his beautiful smile and eyes in the pictures he shared with me.  Then, when we spoke on the phone, the conversation was effortless and we had a lot in common. 

We made lots of plans to travel together since we both enjoy traveling and exploring new places.  I remember Dilip asking me if he thought we would ever take any of the hypothetical trips we talked about and I remember thinking in my head, so as not to scare him, we are going to get married and see all those places and more!

So, Dilip, tell us a little bit about your cultural background.

I was born in India and emigrated to the United States when I was one year old with my mother and sister to come join our Dad who was already living/working here in New Jersey.  I was born into a Gujarati family from Surat, India.  My family is 100% Indian and we are spiritual with an emphasis on Hindu traditions.  It’s important to note though, that growing up in America from the age of 1, despite being born to Indian parents, culturally, we are mostly American and mesh the best of both worlds as best that we can.

What are any dating challenges you may have faced?

Jill: Dilip lived in Atlanta, GA when we met and I was living 30 miles outside of New York City in a town called New City, NY.  The distance only made our love stronger, and we soon made plans for me to move to Atlanta.

Who proposed and how did it happen?

Dilip proposed to me in our apartment after we signed the lease and after a long drive down to Atlanta from New York.  He tried to throw me off the entire ride down, which actually had the opposite effect of upsetting me so he knew he had to act quickly!

What are some of the cultural conflicts/challenges you may have faced?

We honestly had very few cultural challenges and conflicts.  Mainly, I think, because I’m a vegetarian which is very important to his parents.

Also, because Dilip’s sisters are both with Caucasian men so I think his family had some familiarity with integrating cultures.  They had also been in the US for over 30 years at the time which I think was helpful.

How did your families react?

Both of our families completely approved of our marriage.


What kind of a wedding did you have?

We had a modified Hindu wedding.  The priest was amazing because he really explained everything he was doing which was very helpful and meaningful to my side of the family.  The ceremony was only 90 minutes and we wore American clothes: Dilip in a traditional black tuxedo and me in a traditional American wedding gown.

What are some of your favorite memories that pertain to cultural integration?

I think the wedding weekend probably created our most favorite memories of our cultural integration because we combined features traditional to each culture from raas gaarba the night of our rehearsal dinner to a modified Hindu ceremony in a traditional tux/gown. 

Overall, we had family and friends from both sides attend our wedding and reception and they thoroughly enjoyed themselves – especially those who had never been to a modified Hindu wedding ceremony before.

What is it like melding cultures every day?

I don’t think it’s something we think about very often.  We have gone to the Hindu temple for some holidays and we celebrate more Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter.  Dilip has been teaching the kids how to count in Gujarati and his parents will say hello and goodbye to the kids in their native language.

People don’t assume we are together and we have had a few awkward situations. Read why. Click To Tweet

What have you learned as multi cultural couple/family?

I think we are just more aware of how other people view us as a couple.  People don’t assume we are together and we have had a few awkward situations in which people assume we are not a couple.  For example, once we were shopping for tile and the salesperson asked if I was the realtor.  We actually laugh at that story and understand that people just assume that Dilip would have an Indian wife and I would have a Caucasian husband.  I hope that we will see more multiracial couples and families on TV and in the media so that people’s ideas will change.

How We Met (August issue)


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Indian by birth, American by choice, Lakshmi identifies more with the hyphen in Indian-American. Read More under “Meet the Team”.

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