by Michele Carlo

Story Summary

"A Tale of Two Weddings" comically—and poignantly—captures the story of two similar, yet different weddings in Michele's family. What does intermarriage mean? Is cultural insecurity really a thing? Could a story like this still happen today?

Discussion Questions

  1. Why do you think there's an implied (albeit lovingly portrayed) rivalry between two members of the same ethnic group (Puerto Rican and Dominican) who basically share the same culture? Is there a similar thing between Afro-Caribbean immigrants and African-Americans? The Irish and English? Italians and Sicilians? Northern Americans and Southern? City folk and country folk? How is it the same? How is it different? Are there any others you can think of? Discuss.
  2. What are your thoughts about marrying or partnering with someone from another culture? Do you think it's not as much of a big deal now as it may have been 25-30 years ago? (The story takes place in the 1990s.) How have perspectives changed since then? Or have they?
  3. What is it about music, singing and good food that helps people of different backgrounds relax and want to know each other?
  4. Why do you think the cousins thought less of Michele because a Jewish boyfriend ""was all she could get?"" Do you think they were correct? Out of line? How would you feel/react if you overheard a similar conversation today?
  5. What do you think of Michele's takeaway? That after all her identity crises: "in the end it doesn't matter who you marry as long as you're secure of who you are."
  6. What does it mean to be secure with who you are? Is that something you learn, something you have in you already, or both?
  7. Michele's story takes place in New York City. Can you see any similar situations happening where you live? If so, why, and between whom? If not, why not?

Resources

  • Definitely Hispanic: Growing Up Latino and Celebrating What Unites Us by LeJuan James
  • Jewish/Christian Marriage: The Best of Both Worlds by Andrew Ferrier

Themes

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Identity
  • Interfaith
  • Jewish American/Jews
  • Latino Americans/Latios

Full Transcript
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Hi! My name is Michele Carlo and the name of this story is “A Tale of Two Weddings,” and it’s from my book Fish Out of Agua.

So… how can you tell a Puerto Rican bride at a wedding? HAHA! It’s easy: She’s the one wearing something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, something pink, something red, something green, something striped, something plaid, something checked, something polka-dot, something metallic, and always, always, always, something animal-print. (laughing)

There comes a time for every Nuyorican family when we must finally face the realities of intermarriage. Like when my cousin Evie married a Dominican (laughing). At Evie’s and Alex’s wedding there was a champagne fountain, a 12-piece salsa band…and the most segregated room since segregation was the law of the United States: Santo Domingo on one side; Vega Alta on the other. Oh, except when the band played.  Ah, as long as the music was playing, the dance floor was this wonderful tangle of hips and hair and feet. But the second the music stopped, there were three shades of black, brown, and beige glaring at each other across an invisible Mason-Dixon line.

Now Evie and Alex didn’t notice a thing because they were in love. But I noticed it, because I am the “Red Sheep” of my Nuyorican family. I’m the one that doesn’t speak Spanish well. I’m the one that doesn’t dance salsa well. And at this point in my life, I’m 33 years old, I knew everyone knew it and that’s the way it was. So, later on that evening, when I went to the ladies’ room, I walked into the bathroom and I saw two of Alex’s cousins gossiping in front of the mirror. They gave me a little bit of side eye as I walked into the bathroom stall and as soon as I clicked the lock (click noise), out came the Spanish.

“¿Oye, quien es esa blanquita colorada?”

“Oh no, that’s not a white girl; she is Evie’s cousin.”

“¿Unh, unh, unh, unh, unh, unh, unh! Y quien es un hombre con ella que no puede bailiar…tampoco?”

“Oh, the boyfriend. Oh, the one that can’t dance either? Well, yes, he is the boyfriend. And I heard he is un Judeo. A Jew.”

“¿No, un Judeo aqui? ¡No creo! I don’t believe it!”

“Ay no. Ay pobrecita. I guess that was all she could get.”

So…yeah…my boyfriend was Jewish. He was a 6’4″ tall, long-haired, gothic rock-and-roll Jew: the Black Artist Sheep of his academic family, an outlier like me. Now, there have been only a few times in my life where I have ever exhibited any type of cojones, you know, courage. And I came out of that, I came out of that bathroom stall armed and dangerous—with five years of high school Spanish. Yeah, you heard that right five years—and 33 years of playing “la boba,” the fool.

I walked right up to those cousins and I said, “Hola, tiene la hora?” “Hi, got the time?” And both the cousins’ faces crumbled like old morcilla, blood sausage, as they realized that I understood everything that they said, and as they tried to splutter their apology, I just went, “Unh, unh, unh! You are so busted, pase buen dia!” “Have a nice day!”

But I got my revenge…I married my Jew! And we called our wedding the “Russo-Rican Extravaganza.” Ah, it was so great (laughing). We got married under a chuppa and I took communion. He broke the glass and I invoked an ancient Taino prayer. And we feasted. Ah, we feasted, feasted, feasted! We had paella and brisket, and empanadas and knishes, and platanos cooked three ways, and green beans almondine, and oh, the desserts—ha, the postres! The wedding cake was tre leches and we had flan, which is a custard, and tembleque, which is a coconut pudding, and that weird kind of like honey almond bland cake that Jewish people like to eat that doesn’t taste that good. But it was, it was great!

And then my Titi Dulce she sang Pentecostal hymns and had the Druckers, the Goldsteins, and the Fishers clapping their hands and stomping their feet to “Hallelujah Jesús” —what did I just do? (laughter) It was a great wedding!

But as the years went by the…glow started to wear off. Oh, not because I didn’t love my husband, but the longer that I was married I realized that because I didn’t marry inside my own culture, did that mean that I betrayed my culture? Had I turned my back unconsciously, subconsciously or directly on whatever little ethnic identity I ever had? Did I have to give back my Puerto Rican card?

And then, a while later, I came out of the subway in Brooklyn into a cold December drizzle and I saw a very tiny, very brown, very bewildered young woman being set upon…there are no other words…by this very well-meaning yuppie couple who was telling her, “Tenemos que tomar su paragua. We’re gonna take your umbrella.” And I walked right over to the woman and I said, “Necesita ayudar? Do you need help?” And she looked at me with these big black eyes and she said, “Por favor! Please! Estoy perdido y esos blanquitos son locos! I am lost and these white people are crazy! Can you tell me how to get to 10th Avenue?” And I was like, “Yeah, sure I’m walking that way.”

So, we start walking and, on the way, I find out that she is from El Salvador. She was coming here to live with her sister, and she was going to study to be a dentist. And she shivers, she goes, “Brrrrrrrrrr! (makes a shivering sound). Hace frio! Was it always so cold at night?” And I said, “Ha! Espere que el nieve, wait until it snows!” We walk a little while longer and we stop, of course under a streetlight, right, for dramatic intent. It was under a streetlight and she looks up at me and she says, “Are you Puerto Rican? You must be Puerto Rican.”

A lifetime of insecurity spilled out into the rain: “What? Huh? Who? Who you talkin’ ’bout? Me? Huh? Me, Puerto Rican? Aaaah! Why do you think? How do you know? What was the giveaway? What was it? Was it my red hair? The freckles? The light skin? My bad accent? My terrible Spanish? The absence of rhythm in my walk? What? What? What? What? What?”

And then, this beautiful young woman who was about 4’10,” maybe, looks up at all 5’3-3/4″ of me and says, “No, I thought you must be Puerto Rican porque eres muy alta. Because you’re so tall!”

Ha, because I was tall?! Not because of family or politics or religion or food or culture or language or who I chose to spend my life with or my chosen profession, or anything else. Of course, she knew I was Latina—of course, she knew I was Puerto Rican—because that’s what I was!

And it doesn’t matter who you marry…as long as you’re secure…with who you are.