Immigrants’ Children Look Closer for Love

Annie Gowen, Washington Post, March 8, 2009

Katie Xiao emigrated from China when she was 4 and always thought of herself as Americanized–until she started dating.

Subtle cultural clashes with Caucasian or Latino boyfriends led to unhappy breakups. It made her realize she’s more Chinese than she thought. Now she wants to meet a man of Asian descent.

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But scholars delving into the U.S. Census have found a surprising converse trend. Although interracial marriages overall have increased, the rate of Hispanics and Asians marrying partners of other races declined in the past two decades. This suggests that the growing number of immigrants is having a profound effect on coupling, they say.

The number of native- and foreign-born people marrying outside their race fell from 27 to 20 percent for Hispanics and 42 to 33 percent for Asians from 1990 to 2000, according to Ohio State University sociologist Zhenchao Qian, who co-authored a study on the subject. The downward trend continued through last year, Qian said.

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Increasingly, singles are turning to a growing number of niche dating sites on the Internet, such as http://Shaadi.com and http://Persiansingles.com. Locally, one of the largest social networking groups, Professionals in the City, has expanded its repertoire of lectures and wine-tastings over the past year to include “speed dating” nights for people of Asian, Latino or South Asian descent.

Michael Karlan, Professionals’ president, said targeting ethnic groups makes sense in the Washington area, which has more than 1 million immigrants. He teamed with the local South Asian networking group NetSAP for a recent event at Gua-Rapo in Arlington that was a noisy sellout with more than 90 attendees.

The 20- and 30-somethings drawn to these events say they have a deep yearning to connect with someone who shares their roots, yet they are conflicted about it. As children, they felt divided loyalties, growing up with one foot in their parents’ home country, the other in the United States. Now, as adults, they wonder: Would I be happy with someone as American as I am, or a recent immigrant?

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Researchers spent a decade following 3,300 children of immigrants in the New York region as they navigated adulthood, which led to a study published last year called “Inheriting the City: The Children of Immigrants Come of Age.” They followed both the “second generation” children born in the United States and the “1.5 generation”–children of immigrants who came as youngsters–who were Dominican, Chinese, Russian Jews, South Americans and West Indians.

Researchers found that their subjects were constantly struggling with the desire to be open to people of all backgrounds vs. family expectations, and their own desires to sustain their culture. Most paired with others who shared similar racial or language backgrounds.

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