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Our Jewish-Asian Marriage Isn’t Trendy
Lynnette Li

Lynnette Li

Columnist, Repurposing Family Culture at the Parent Voice, Magazine
Lynnette Li is a performing artist, music teacher, and part-time-stay-at-home mom. Read more under 'Columnists'.
Lynnette Li

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I am often met with a “knowing look” when I (a Chinese American female) share that my husband is Jewish. “Oh yeah, that’s a thing,” says [insert well-meaning person’s name].  And you know, according to all sorts of sources—including the New York Times—it does seem to be a thing. I’m one-half of a “marriage trend” that’s sweeping the nation. I had a professor once tell me that her synagogue had Asian women “sprouting up” all over the congregation. People usually cite the most popular examples, e.g., Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, Maury Povich and Connie Chung, Woody Allen and “his much younger Asian wife,” “tiger mom” Amy Chua and her Jewish husband.

Our marriage doesn’t fall within this trend. At first glance, we might fit the bill. But ours is not a Jewish boy meets Asian girl, and due to a number of conveniently shared values—“tight-knit families, money saving, hard work, and educational advancement” included—they fall in love kind of story.

We met in the choir room our freshman year of high school, where we rehearsed for The Sound of Music. As freshmen, we were lowly chorus members—he was a Jewish Nazi, and I, a Christian Chinese Austrian nun. Oh, and in the “So Long, Farewell” number, we got to put on fancy costumes and sing “Goodbye!” as the Von Trapp children marched off to bed. Our friendship began, developed, and thrived while we acted and sang over the course of those four years. It continued as each of us dated our own high school sweethearts. And it deepened over the next four years of college despite living four time zones apart, he out at Stanford, I at Western Michigan.

Ours is not a Jewish boy meets Asian girl, and due to a number of conveniently shared values—“tight-knit families, money saving, hard work, and educational advancement” included—they fall in love kind of story.

People sometimes ask us, why didn’t you date sooner, wasn’t love in the air? We lock eyes for a second, deciding wordlessly whether to give the innocuous “it just wasn’t the right time yet” sort of answer or dive into the truth. From my perspective, I may have loved him for quite some time—it likely did start back in high school—but the faith gap between us was more than just a gap, it was a fiery bottomed chasm.

I was raised very lovingly in an evangelical Christian home.  This is the faith of my nuclear and most of my very large extended family. I learned how important it was to love others, that forgiveness is at the center of our faith, that it is God’s desire for all people to experience his love, and that Jesus was the only way to God. In my home and in my church I was explicitly taught that the only suitable partner for me was another Christian.

They called me racist and anti-Semitic. A Jewish-Asian love story. Read more... Click To Tweet

When I was 14 years old, a nice Jewish boy (not the one who would become my husband, a different one) asked me to the Homecoming Dance. We had a lot of fun—so much that after the dance he asked me if I would be his girlfriend. I liked him, so I said yes. A week later, this triggered an intervention by members of my church. They loved me and were trying to protect me from making bad choices. So I broke up with that nice Jewish boy, which led to a year of torment for me by his friends. They called me racist and anti-Semitic. I’d open my locker each morning and out would tumble unflattering caricature drawings of my face and body. They called me horrible names in bold marker. I went to school each day expecting to be punished in some way. I couldn’t blame them, they were being good and loyal friends to him. And anyway, I’d been taught that people would hate me for loving Jesus, so I accepted my fate.

Photo Credit: Special Moments Photography

Over the next eight years, I dated only Christian boys because I believed this was what God wanted me to do. But as I grew, I came to find that the compassionate self I yearned to be and was raised to be, could no longer honestly identify as an evangelical Christian. I didn’t believe that there was only one way to God.  I witnessed love, compassion, and genuine goodness within my friends from a whole variety of faith and non-faith backgrounds. Over time, though the chasm between our families remained, my best friend and I have painstakingly bridged it. And it is upon that rickety bridge that we’ve built up our relationship from a longtime friendship into the marriage we have today.  

This isn’t a story about a girl who is angry about her upbringing, or who rejects her past. I was raised with love, by a family who had the best intentions for me. I was raised by parents, who like most good parents, hope and pray that I’ll choose the path they intended for me. Being a mom now, I understand those hopes and prayers more than ever before.

This is a story about a girl who had to break her parents’ hearts, in order to listen to her own – to be the person she is meant to be, and to marry someone she loves.

This is a story about two best friends making the choice to have difficult lifelong conversations. Our union doesn’t provide clean and simple answers. There are no presumptions that any tradition in our home will be the way either one of us “has always done it.” We are forced to be much more deliberate than that. We have to repurpose our individual families’ cultures of the past, into a family culture that works for us today.

Despite its challenges, this is also a story of a four-year-old daughter and a two-year-old son, whom everyone can agree they love wholeheartedly. They will be raised with the hope that they will have love and compassion for everyone in their families. They will be raised with the hope that they will embrace and honor their Jewish, Christian, and Chinese histories side by side. And above all, they are raised with the hope that they will grow to live fulfilling, purposeful, and happy lives. But these hopes, like those of all good parents, are only hopes.  

Photo Credit: Lynnette Li. Created by Lynnette’s daughter.

So when someone gives my husband and me “that knowing look,” I think back on the many years it took to build this bridge that supports our home. I look to a future of working together to sustain and improve our bridge and I think to myself, it is neither popular nor easy, this choice that we made. But then we grab hold of each other’s hands and take a look at our little family, and trendy or not, I know it is right.

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  • This article was first published on Kveller.com and appears here with permission. It has been updated by the author for this publication.

    The views and opinions expressed by columnists are their own and may or may not represent those of theParentVoice.com or its team. 

    the author

    Lynnette Li is a performing artist, music teacher, and part-time-stay-at-home mom. Read more under ‘Columnists’.

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    1 Comment on "Our Jewish-Asian Marriage Isn’t Trendy"

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    Ha. Your description of your high school musical is pretty fantastic. Isn’t that crazy, for your beautiful, deep, complex, lifelong commitment to be considered a “thing?!” I love this article. Thank you for writing it. Yours is a needed perspective and voice and luckily for us yours is a funny, intelligent one.

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