Mixed marriages remain novel in AsiaMay 2nd, 2010
By Karryn Miller, International News Services
Inter-racial marriages may be on the rise throughout Asia but they still hold a minority position. Homogenous countries like Japan and Korea are slowly adapting to the idea of mixed families but legally and socially there is room for improvement. In these countries acceptance of multicultural couplings goes from one extreme to other being both a source of glamour and a point of discrimination.
In Japan a popular reality TV series “Okusama wa Gaikokujin” (literally my wife is a foreigner) held a prime-time spot in 2006 and 2007. Each episode focused on a mixed family and how the foreign wife coped with Japanese life. The series may have sated Japanese people’s curiosity about intercultural couples but in the process it separated inter-racial marriages from other marriages making them appear novel, different, and sometimes even strange. It also failed to accurately represent the current situation. Russians and American women were typically featured while Filipinos; Korean, and Chinese spouses—who make up the bulk of mixed marriages in Japan—didn’t appear on the show. This April a similar tale hits the big screen. A new Japanese movie “My darling is a foreigner” (based on a comic book series) details the relationship between a Japanese women and a western foreigner—once again making this blended coupling appear unique.Japan’s neighbour, South Korea, has also seen a surge in inter-racial marriage and as a result babies of mixed ethnicities are on the rise. The country is still grappling with integrating these children into society and often they are left out because of their background. A recent New York Times feature reported that the dropout rate of mixed-background children from elementary school is 15.4%, 22 times the national average (according to statistics from South Korea’s Ministry of Education). Children with one parent from another part of Asia are often referred to as ‘Kosians’ part Asian part Korean. The South Korean government has invested heavily in programs aimed at minimizing discrimination but overall immigrants and mixed-race children still haven’t assimilated into mainstream South Korea. The same can be said for Japan.
Both countries have a number of non-profit groups to help with the problems multi-cultural families may face. These organisations typically help out when couples get divorced and issues around custody arise. Kalakasan, a Japan-based organisation, helps Filipino migrant women married (or divorced) to Japanese men deal with everything from custody battles to crisis intervention as well as providing support for children through outings, mentoring and other social activities. The group helps out with around 200 cases each year.
An inter-racial marriage presents an opportunity for shared cultural understanding and can be a huge benefit for the children—as they can be part of two precious cultures. But until society allows them this pleasure and accepts mixed marriage as the norm non-profit groups, like Kalakasan, and the government will continue to play a vital role in reaching equality.