Interethnic marriages: between an exercise of tolerance and a modern expression of indifference. 1895-2010
Intermarriages (or mixed marriages) have taken place since the beginning of time. As people explored and traveled, both men and women would fall in love with natives and either stay or take the partners back home with them. The term mixed marriage also describe the marriage of a couple who has different cultural, ethnic, religious or national heritages or backgrounds.
The research of mixed marriages was inspired by the idea that diversity of customs and cultures has been, for centuries, one of the world's assets. The ethnic and religious tolerance and peaceful cohabitation have been, at least for the last decades, the guarantee for an open society and consideration for cultural diversity. On the other hand, there are many examples in Europe where the application of this generous principle was confronted with serious difficulties, such as the integration of migrants coming from areas culturally opposed to those of the host-country. It is also (as) true that in areas such as former Yugoslavia or Northern Ireland the high ratio of mixed marriages did not prevent civil wars.
Different cultures endure vastly diverse moral, ethical and value foundations that influence their perceptions of individual, family and societal lifestyle. Mixed marriages do not connect only two individuals, but also the groups to which they belong. Mixed marriages act as a connecting element within a society and their existence has the potential to reduce the probability of violent conflicts among different ethnic groups and to increase the social cohesion of the society. When among the members of different groups there are many marital relations, there are also other social contacts among them: children from different groups have the opportunity to meet each other in school, in the neighbourhood, in leisure activities.
Mixed marriages form a link between these groups and often connect the social networks of the two spouses, and new contacts and interpersonal relationships could appear, passing the group boundaries. It would be interesting and useful, in this context, to find an answer to the question whether intermarriage lowers the salience of cultural distinctions for new generations, and to find out if the descendents of such marriages identify themselves with only one group, or with both of them.
Another challenging question researchers are invited to answer is whether through mixed marriage people might lose their negative attitudes they have toward other groups. Although personal interactions can sometimes lead to conflicts, accentuating the economic and cultural differences, when the relationship is intimate, the interaction might give people the possibility to understand individual variety among members of a group, and, by doing this, they might reduce their prejudices and stereotypes.
© 2011 by Luminita Dumanescu
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