Choosing whom to marry involves more than emotion, as racial politics, cultural mores, and local demographics all shape romantic choices. In Marriage Vows and Racial Choices, sociologist Jessica Vasquez-Tokos explores the decisions of Latinos who marry either within or outside of their racial and ethnic groups. Drawing from in-depth interviews with nearly 50 couples, she examines their marital choices and how these unions influence their identities as Americans.
Vasquez-Tokos finds that their experiences in childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood shape their perceptions of race, which in turn influence their romantic expectations. Most Latinos marry other Latinos, but those who intermarry tend to marry whites. She finds that some Latina women who had domineering fathers assumed that most Latino men shared this trait and gravitated toward white men who differed from their fathers. Other Latina respondents who married white men fused ideas of race and class and perceived whites as higher status and considered themselves to be “marrying up.” Latinos who married non-Latino minorities—African Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans—often sought out non-white partners because they shared similar experiences of racial marginalization. Latinos who married Latinos of a different national origin expressed a desire for shared cultural commonalities with their partners, but—like those who married whites—often associated their own national-origin groups with oppressive gender roles.
Vasquez-Tokos also investigates how racial and cultural identities are maintained or altered for the respondents’ children. Within Latino-white marriages, biculturalism—in contrast with Latinos adopting a white “American” identity—is likely to emerge. For instance, white women who married Latino men often embraced aspects of Latino culture and passed it along to their children. Yet, for these children, upholding Latino cultural ties depended on their proximity to other Latinos, particularly extended family members. Both location and family relationships shape how parents and children from interracial families understand themselves culturally.
As interracial marriages become more common, Marriage Vows and Racial Choices shows how race, gender, and class influence our marital choices and personal lives.
Jessica Vasquez-Tokos is associate professor of sociology at the University of Oregon.