As Metro Vancouver’s population becomes increasingly diverse, more opportunities blossom for individuals to form relationships with someone from a different ethno-cultural background.
Cross-cultural relationships vary according to individual characteristics such as generational status, birthplace and particular visible minority groups. They could be comprised of one visible minority group member and one non-member, or of individuals who belong to two different visible minority groups.
Interracial relationships reflect one aspect of diversity in Vancouver. And in fact, many sociologists see mixed race unions to be the most accurate barometer of a community’s racial and cultural integration.
Dr. Faizal Sahukhan, a registered counsellor, sex therapist and the national communications director for the Canadian Professional Counsellors Association, asserts that, as a society, Vancouver is now more introspective. “We are more progressive, more respectful of other cultures and people from different backgrounds … we’re becoming more non-judgmental,” he says.
A report by Metro Vancouver shows that people born outside of Canada represent approximately 40 per cent of the total population, compared to 20 per cent across Canada.
William Fritzberg, an American filmmaker and multimedia artist who is married to a Filipino-Canadian, agrees with the perception that Vancouver is primarily accepting of interracial relationships, and points to the city’s multicultural demographics as the cause.
Comparing Vancouver to Seattle, Fritzberg makes note of a difference.
“When I am in Seattle, nine out of 10 people I meet are from the West Coast,” he says. “The one per cent is from a different state, Seattle-born or from a different country. In Vancouver, nine out of 10 people I meet aren’t from Canada originally. And the one per cent is from B.C. The likelihood of two people coming together from different backgrounds is greater.”
Statistics on cross-cultural relationships
While same-race unions still greatly outnumber mixed-race unions, the 2006 Census of Canada counted a 33 per cent increase in the number of cross-cultural married and common-law couples within five years.
According to a Statistics Canada study, British Columbia has the highest proportion of interracial couples, at almost six percent, and Vancouver has the highest proportion of cross-cultural couples of all cities across Canada.
Interestingly, 86 per cent of cross-cultural unions are comprised of one person who belongs to a visible minority group and one who is not a visible minority. This type of mixed race relationship made up 3.3 per cent of all couples in Canada in 2006.
Less than one per cent (0.6) of all couples in Canada consisted of members who belonged to two different visible minority groups.
Visible minority is defined under the Employment Equity Act as “persons, other than Aboriginal Peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour.” This includes Chinese, South Asian, Black, Arab, West Asian, Filipino, Latin American, Japanese and Korean.
According to the same study, the Japanese were the most likely to be involved in an interracial relationship at 75 per cent, followed by Latin Americans at 47 per cent.
The exotic allure
Sahukhan, who is also the author of the book Dating the Ethnic Man, argues that while interracial romantic relationships are becoming increasingly common, they come with specific challenges.
Fritzberg agrees, noting that this is inevitable when two individuals, who are already distinct in their own perceptions and ideas, enter an interracial relationship with the added factors of differing cultures, religions, and often, family values.
“In our multicultural society many people are attracted to those of different backgrounds. Their accent, exotic appearance or unfamiliar relationship style are often irresistible. But the very things that attract can also create problems,” states Sahukhan on his website www.multiculturalromance.com.
Given the additional challenges that come with being in an interracial relationship, why is there still an increasing proportion of cross-cultural couples?
Sahukhan recognizes that we are a “very curious people” in Vancouver, and being in a romantic relationship with someone outside one’s race or culture is becoming the norm in this city.
In fact, statistics show that second and third generation visible minorities in Canada are now more likely to marry outside their ethno-cultural group than within it. Fifty-one per cent of second generation visible minorities are in a cross-cultural relationship. Among third generation visible minorities, more than two-thirds are involved with someone who is not from their cultural group.
The challenges in handling differences in attitudes and expectations when it comes to facets of a romantic relationship such as courtship, rules around public displays of affection or family ties, is rooted in misunderstanding, Sahukhan notes. Specifically, it comes from “not understanding the intimacies of … [a] partner’s cultural background.
Sahukhan says that in order to increase understanding, couples should do some research.
“You need to do … research to truly understand your partner’s culture … customs, and traditions. By doing that, you’re showing your partner that you appreciate where they come from and that you’re being active and proactive in the relationship,” he explains.
Fritzberg’s experience echoes this, as he recounts his recent first trip to the Philippines. Although the purpose of the trip was to meet his partner’s extended family and understand the nuances of her cultural background, the attraction to new experiences was also genuine.
Vancouverites, particularly in the younger generations, are typically eager for adventure and exploration, which is probably another driving force behind the increase in cross-cultural relationships.
Vancouver has “a holistic culture”, remarks Sahukhan, in the sense that when we look at an individual, “we look at everything, not just their race, colour or creed … but we look within.”
Perhaps that’s exactly the explanation why l-o-v-e in Vancouver is colour blind. Because race is really just one factor, and there is as much diversity between individuals within one culture as there is across cultures.