You all remember the party? The one to celebrate my graduation? The one where the brown side of my family (my husband's relatives) and the white side of my family (my relatives) were to meet for the first time ever? Well, it was last weekend. And we all survived.
My family started arriving more than a week in advance. Mostly to help me through the last final exam push, but also to clean my house and help prepare for the party. It was a 70+ guest list and it was supposed to include tables and chairs for everyone, a buffet-style dinner served by waiters, and mingling throughout the house. My parents, grandparents and uncle stayed with my most of the week.
As for the brown people, the only Pakistani relatives that live in America and three of M's cousins and their families and M's sister. We have a decent sized group of Pakistani friends, too, falling into two different camps, M's school friends who have followed him post-graduation to work at the same company and a few couples we've met at the Mosque.
Here were a few of my worries: how would I bridge this divide? Would the white & brown people talk to each other? What would they say? Do they have anything in common? Will either side be offended by something the other side did or said?
One interesting worry I discussed with M was something we both shared. We both thought that each side of the family would think "Wow, he/she acts a lot different in front of that side of the family!"
I thought that my family might think I act weird around M's family - perhaps more reserved? I didn't want them to think of me as stifled, and I thought they might get nervous about certain things like serving tea to the elder males first, or being patted on the head by elders. I was also worried that M's family would think I was VERY different in front of my own family - for one thing I was wearing a dress that showed the bottom half of my calves! Scandalous! Although I had worn capri-ish pants in front of them before, I was still nervous about that one. I'm also from a loud, often-laughing, joking, boisterous family. I think I show some of that in front of M's family, but I worried it would be shocking nonetheless. I figured that my family would see me as being oppressed by the Pakistanis and M's side would see me as finally showing my wild American-ness.
Unfortunately, not all of these worries were unfounded. There was a not a colorblind convergence of peace and love on my front lawn. There was a lot of self-segregation. I saw a lot of chasing - at first the brown people were downstairs, but when my parents went downstairs, they left and went outside. I know that my parents and grandparents felt like that was rude. They did say that everyone tried to be polite and friendly during the introductions, and made a point to say goodbyes, but not a lot of pleasantries in between.
There were a couple of Pakistanis who did make significant bridges with my family, though. M's sister's husband charmed a lot of my family - he's the kind of guy who brings home white office-mates for dinner and really likes to befriend the converts in the Mosque, so he's more comfortable talking to Americans. The couples we've met at the Mosque are also second-generation, so they are Americans themselves, without accents or any impediment. My grandmother especially liked talking to the wives and told them all how beautiful they were. (Although she did call one woman's scarf a 'turban' and remarked to another about her lack of accent even though she'd already said she was born and raised in America.)
One of the problems was that it rained, so all the guests had to squeeze into my not-very-large house. Perhaps if people had a little more breathing room they would have been able to approach the other culture at their leisure. Another problem was that there were several older members of M's family who don't speak English AT ALL, and not enough people acted as good translators. At one point I heard my mother describing the three cake options to a Pakistani friend of M's. M's aunt was also there and she asked the friend to translate for the aunt but he just smiled and nodded and walked away. I'm not sure if he had a momentary English lapse himself or just didn't want to do it, or figured that "Chocolate with Peanut Butter frosting" was self-explanatory, but he didn't translate and a nice little exchange between M's aunt and my mother didn't occur. (Of course now that I type that I wonder why didn't *I* step in and translate?)
I think that overall everything was nice. There were too many people in my little house and some things were uncomfortable, but what meeting of the in-laws isn't, even in the same culture? And now both sides know each other a little better and know me better, too. It seems whenever you throw a big party, though, you never get to spend more that 5 minutes with each of your guests!
Now if you'll be patient, I'll go cut the heads off some pictures!