Strategic love: the embassy of intercultural marriage

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in community,Expat Harem concept,family,global niche,home,identity,multicultural,self-image

Safiye by Reyyan Somuncuoğlu

By TARA LUTMAN AĞAÇAYAK

If marriage is the smallest unit of a community, then cross-cultural couples are ambassadors, peace-makers, and change-agents.

When I married my Turkish husband five months after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, we were forming a strategic alliance. A Turkish-Muslim and an American-Catholic joining our lives. Our union represents an opportunity to build bridges between nations and foster understanding among cultures.

I was reminded of Turkey’s history of such strategic alliances when I met the Istanbul painter Reyyan Somuncuoğlu. Some of her harem paintings, like this one of Safiye, are inspired by four foreign-born women who married Ottoman sultans and gave birth to sons who also became sultans.

My husband and I faced criticism before September 11th about our mixed-marriage, but afterward the skeptics and naysayers increased. Their voices were juxtaposed against those telling us we were models for the world and would do wonderful things with our marriage.

I feel a deep sense of responsibility to represent my country to those I encounter abroad. Likewise I take opportunities to provide insight into a Muslim culture based on my first-hand experiences living in Turkey. At a time in America when Muslims are discriminated against nearly as much as homosexuals, I view this as an important role in promoting tolerance and understanding.

Mixed-marriages offer the possibility of bringing peace to the world by first establishing it on a small scale between two people and sending ripples out into the community at large.

Expats living abroad, especially those married to spouses from another culture, are the epitome of global citizenship and provide hope for finding ways to live together in harmony.

How do you take on the role of global citizen in your relationships?
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Tara Lutman Ağaçayak is a writer, blogger, problem-solver, creative strategist, and social entrepreneur living in Turkey.
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  • Michelle Deniz Drousé Woodhous

    Love this piece, Tara. It resonates with me – 2nd generation Turkish-American living in London with my 100% British husband. Since the moment we met, we have been building bridges of understanding among our cultures. Often there is confusion as I represent multiple cultures – Turkish, American and secular Muslim/Jew. But we enjoy celebrating the best parts of our cultures  - especially food! – and integrate them in our daily lives and share them with our friends and family. We hope to pass these pearls of understanding down through our future generations of family and broader communities. :)

  • Michelle Deniz Drousé Woodhous

    Love this piece, Tara. It resonates with me – 2nd generation Turkish-American living in London with my 100% British husband. Since the moment we met, we have been building bridges of understanding among our cultures. Often there is confusion as I represent multiple cultures – Turkish, American and secular Muslim/Jew. But we enjoy celebrating the best parts of our cultures  - especially food! – and integrate them in our daily lives and share them with our friends and family. We hope to pass these pearls of understanding down through our future generations of family and broader communities. :)

    • taraagacayak

      You are a shining example of this post Michelle, and you have lots to offer others in terms of insight. It’s so good to know you.

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  • http://www.Sezin.org/ Sezin

    Oh Tara, I love this piece, an the theory supporting it: your story and all the beautiful comments it has inspired. I wish I could join in on this bandwagon.

    As a half American half Sri Lankan adult Third Culture Kid, married to an American American raised in Boca Raton, Florida I don't feel there have been any bridges built by our union. Only a growing gulf of “relatives” who don't understand me, don't care to, and generally make me feel, well, bad, about my hybrid self. Not to mention “my” own “family”, who have shown him respect and deference while simultaneously, and unabashedly, disregarding and disrespecting me.

    I had no idea when I married an “American” that this label has many different meanings. I hold an American passport, yes, but I do not identify with it the way my husband, his family, and portions of my own family do. I identify with the Indigenous communities with whom I have no ancestry in common, yet I connect with them almost universally on a spiritual and cultural level.

    The differences between how I was raised and how my husband are so disparate, I could write a novel about the inward and outward culture clash that has been our marriage.

    More than anything, I wish that my relationship was even a little bit like yours. Not only is there love, but also a social and cultural purpose. You can't ask for much more, can you?

    Much love,

    Sezin

  • http://www.taralutmanagacayak.blogspot.com Tara

    Elmira – I agree with you when you say “Marriages as well as friendships have been crucial in breaking down barriers…” Absolutely.

  • http://www.taralutmanagacayak.blogspot.com Tara

    Elmira – I agree with you when you say “Marriages as well as friendships have been crucial in breaking down barriers…” Absolutely.

  • http://www.wondermentwoman.com Elmira

    This is an important post. Americans have a distorted idea about Islam. As a result Muslims in America face a tremendous amount of challenges. Marriages as well as friendships have been crucial in breaking down barriers in this country. My friends have always defended my Turkish cultural and religious heritage – to the point of saying that they themselves are Turks.

  • http://www.wondermentwoman.com Elmira

    This is an important post. Americans have a distorted idea about Islam. As a result Muslims in America face a tremendous amount of challenges. Marriages as well as friendships have been crucial in breaking down barriers in this country. My friends have always defended my Turkish cultural and religious heritage – to the point of saying that they themselves are Turks.

  • http://www.taralutmanagacayak.blogspot.com Tara

    Thank you Hana. I can relate to what you mean when you say “a brand new world has been opening to me”. I know what that feels like. And I like how you have chosen to counter the rough words with positive articles that surprise people in the Czech Republic. That’s exactly the spirit in which I wrote this post and you’ve confirmed my thought that expats can be channels for positive change.

  • http://www.taralutmanagacayak.blogspot.com Tara

    Thank you Hana. I can relate to what you mean when you say “a brand new world has been opening to me”. I know what that feels like. And I like how you have chosen to counter the rough words with positive articles that surprise people in the Czech Republic. That’s exactly the spirit in which I wrote this post and you’ve confirmed my thought that expats can be channels for positive change.

  • http://www.moualla.estranky.cz Hana

    Hi Tara,
    thank you for sharing emotions, which I feel as a part of my mind.
    When I married my husband from Syria, I struggled with a plenty of stupid and xenophobic comments in my country. Now we live in Turkey and it is much more “expat” pleasant place than Czech republic.

    As we are mixed couple by origin and by church :) I see more pros for me. A brand new world has been opening to me and I can easily put off those close-minded people. Just by being a global mind. I like it and I do not accept stupidity any more. I ignore the raugh words and spread love by my articles about life and travelling. And people in Czech republic are often surprised that Turkey and Middle East can be like this.
    Thank you,
    Hana

  • http://www.moualla.estranky.cz Hana

    Hi Tara,
    thank you for sharing emotions, which I feel as a part of my mind.
    When I married my husband from Syria, I struggled with a plenty of stupid and xenophobic comments in my country. Now we live in Turkey and it is much more “expat” pleasant place than Czech republic.

    As we are mixed couple by origin and by church :) I see more pros for me. A brand new world has been opening to me and I can easily put off those close-minded people. Just by being a global mind. I like it and I do not accept stupidity any more. I ignore the raugh words and spread love by my articles about life and travelling. And people in Czech republic are often surprised that Turkey and Middle East can be like this.
    Thank you,
    Hana

  • http://www.taralutmanagacayak.blogspot.com Tara

    Thanks Susan. I’m sure that you and Selcuk ARE showing that people are people. Nice to hear from you.

  • http://www.taralutmanagacayak.blogspot.com Tara

    Thanks Susan. I’m sure that you and Selcuk ARE showing that people are people. Nice to hear from you.

  • http://www.taralutmanagacayak.blogspot.com Tara

    Chrissy, Catherine, Rose & Anastasia – thank you for sharing your experiences, I’ve enjoyed reading them.

    Karen – I like the passage from Khalil Gibran and echo it.

    Monika – It is encouraging to hear that you love to witness the blending of cultures. As I prepared this post I read several forums discussing Catholic/Muslim marriages and some of the language was pretty fierce from those who felt people should stick to their own races/religions.

  • http://www.taralutmanagacayak.blogspot.com Tara

    Chrissy, Catherine, Rose & Anastasia – thank you for sharing your experiences, I’ve enjoyed reading them.

    Karen – I like the passage from Khalil Gibran and echo it.

    Monika – It is encouraging to hear that you love to witness the blending of cultures. As I prepared this post I read several forums discussing Catholic/Muslim marriages and some of the language was pretty fierce from those who felt people should stick to their own races/religions.

  • http://www.theeclecticlife.com Susan McGhee Yigit

    It was a pleasure to read Tara’s article and the accompanying comments. I, too, am married to a Turkish Muslim, but we have travelled somewhat in the opposite direction in that we met and married in Turkey and now are living in the U.S. This, in itself, has made for some adjustments and has definitely presented opportunities to allow others to see the joyful possibilities of cross-cultural unions! “Muslim” has taken on such new meaning since 9/11 and again in the aftermath of the Ft. Hood killings. What I find living here is that while most people truly are friendly and accepting, there is widespread ignorance (and even fear)of global politics and events and America still seems insulated and isolated from reality. The idea of all of the world’s citizens being connected has not resonated here yet- at least in this red southern state! I would like to think that perhaps Selcuk and I are at least making small strides in showing that people are people, regardless of religion, or race, or nationality. Tara, thanks for the thought-provoking post.

  • http://www.theeclecticlife.com Susan McGhee Yigit

    It was a pleasure to read Tara’s article and the accompanying comments. I, too, am married to a Turkish Muslim, but we have travelled somewhat in the opposite direction in that we met and married in Turkey and now are living in the U.S. This, in itself, has made for some adjustments and has definitely presented opportunities to allow others to see the joyful possibilities of cross-cultural unions! “Muslim” has taken on such new meaning since 9/11 and again in the aftermath of the Ft. Hood killings. What I find living here is that while most people truly are friendly and accepting, there is widespread ignorance (and even fear)of global politics and events and America still seems insulated and isolated from reality. The idea of all of the world’s citizens being connected has not resonated here yet- at least in this red southern state! I would like to think that perhaps Selcuk and I are at least making small strides in showing that people are people, regardless of religion, or race, or nationality. Tara, thanks for the thought-provoking post.

  • Chrissy

    Wow Tara, I love this sentence you wrote: “Mixed-marriages offer the possibility of bringing peace to the world by first establishing it on a small scale between two people and sending ripples out into the community at large.” Coming from smallish-town America, I think my decision to marry a Turkish Muslim and move to Turkey really sent out the ripples you’re talking about, and in a good way. I feel really thankful that I have this expatriate experience and can help bridge cultures and squash stereotypes (with the squashing happening in both directions).

    Rose, isn’t it funny how self-introspection and discovery help you learn about others and understand their expectations and tolerances? In the beginning I was listening blindly to what anyone had to say about “marrying a Muslim” and “moving to a 3rd world country”. Then I realized how many people were basing their concerns on plain ignorance and/or their own motives. I’m so glad that I listened to my gut.

    I think that as expat women and cross-cultural couples, we most certainly ARE ambassadors, peace-makers, and change-agents. Tara, thanks for posting about this important topic…

  • Chrissy

    Wow Tara, I love this sentence you wrote: “Mixed-marriages offer the possibility of bringing peace to the world by first establishing it on a small scale between two people and sending ripples out into the community at large.” Coming from smallish-town America, I think my decision to marry a Turkish Muslim and move to Turkey really sent out the ripples you’re talking about, and in a good way. I feel really thankful that I have this expatriate experience and can help bridge cultures and squash stereotypes (with the squashing happening in both directions).

    Rose, isn’t it funny how self-introspection and discovery help you learn about others and understand their expectations and tolerances? In the beginning I was listening blindly to what anyone had to say about “marrying a Muslim” and “moving to a 3rd world country”. Then I realized how many people were basing their concerns on plain ignorance and/or their own motives. I’m so glad that I listened to my gut.

    I think that as expat women and cross-cultural couples, we most certainly ARE ambassadors, peace-makers, and change-agents. Tara, thanks for posting about this important topic…

  • http://www.bazaarbayar.com Catherine Bayar

    This subject really resonates with me too, Tara. We are the same ‘religious blend’ that you and your husband are (and got married a year after 9/11 – wish I had a dollar for everyone who thoughtlessly joked how much my husband looks like bin Laden! NOT funny…)

    Karen’s Gibran quote is perfect to sum up our religious views, which is why we two have no trouble between us in this regard. Explaining it to others is difficult, but an important obligation. We definitely consider ourselves ambassadors – I’ll get on my soap-box and talk to anyone willing to listen, whether they are traveling through Selcuk or Americans who’ve never left the States.

    I’m heartened that a Catholic priest who for many years presided over the Virgin Mary House above Ephesus told me after we married that he was ‘thrilled’ to offer blessings for mixed marriages such as ours, since he firmly believed it contributed to peace in the world. My devout mother was quite happy to hear this. Wish all priests and imams felt the same.

  • http://www.bazaarbayar.blogspot.com Catherine Bayar

    This subject really resonates with me too, Tara. We are the same ‘religious blend’ that you and your husband are (and got married a year after 9/11 – wish I had a dollar for everyone who thoughtlessly joked how much my husband looks like bin Laden! NOT funny…)

    Karen’s Gibran quote is perfect to sum up our religious views, which is why we two have no trouble between us in this regard. Explaining it to others is difficult, but an important obligation. We definitely consider ourselves ambassadors – I’ll get on my soap-box and talk to anyone willing to listen, whether they are traveling through Selcuk or Americans who’ve never left the States.

    I’m heartened that a Catholic priest who for many years presided over the Virgin Mary House above Ephesus told me after we married that he was ‘thrilled’ to offer blessings for mixed marriages such as ours, since he firmly believed it contributed to peace in the world. My devout mother was quite happy to hear this. Wish all priests and imams felt the same.

  • http://www.expatwomenentrepreneurs.com Karen Armstrong

    A quote I love from Khalil Gibran comes to mind:

    “I love you my brother, whoever you are – whether you worship in your church, kneel in your temple or pray in your mosque. You and I are all children of one faith, for the diverse paths of religion are fingers of the loving hand of the Supreme Being, a hand extended to all, offering completeness of spirit to all, eager to receive all.”

    Marriages with different religious backgrounds are a living example of this. They have my admiration for focusing on the love that unites them, rather than on the religious doctrines that the world says should divide them.

  • http://www.expatwomenentrepreneurs.com Karen Armstrong

    A quote I love from Khalil Gibran comes to mind:

    “I love you my brother, whoever you are – whether you worship in your church, kneel in your temple or pray in your mosque. You and I are all children of one faith, for the diverse paths of religion are fingers of the loving hand of the Supreme Being, a hand extended to all, offering completeness of spirit to all, eager to receive all.”

    Marriages with different religious backgrounds are a living example of this. They have my admiration for focusing on the love that unites them, rather than on the religious doctrines that the world says should divide them.

  • http://www.rosedeniz.blogspot.com Rose

    Sometimes I think my marriage to a Turkish man and subsequent duo-national children are my contribution to world peace on a very small scale, so what you say here, Tara, really resonates with me. Many were tolerant of me marrying a Turkish man, but struggled to understand why I would chose to move to Turkey, and at times it all got mixed up together so no one really knew if they were worried about my choice of life mate or new place of residence. The more I believed in myself and my decisions, the more obvious it became, though, who was willing to listen, and learn, and who was looking for controversy. Sadly, or maybe not so sadly, some of the people who spoke out the loudest never got beyond it and communication ended. Thank you for sharing the fact that not all mixed-marriages are rife with intrinsic problems.

  • Anonymous

    Sometimes I think my marriage to a Turkish man and subsequent duo-national children are my contribution to world peace on a very small scale, so what you say here, Tara, really resonates with me. Many were tolerant of me marrying a Turkish man, but struggled to understand why I would chose to move to Turkey, and at times it all got mixed up together so no one really knew if they were worried about my choice of life mate or new place of residence. The more I believed in myself and my decisions, the more obvious it became, though, who was willing to listen, and learn, and who was looking for controversy. Sadly, or maybe not so sadly, some of the people who spoke out the loudest never got beyond it and communication ended. Thank you for sharing the fact that not all mixed-marriages are rife with intrinsic problems.

  • Monika

    Both of my sisters, and two of my closest cousins, married men from other countries. There are still a few continents not currently represented, but I hold out hope for the rest of the family! Personally, I love to witness cultures blending, overlapping, and being shared outside of the familial unit. The xenophobic tendency of our previous generations is slowly giving way to this cultural expansion which can help us with our global views as a nation. I’m all for it.

  • Monika

    Both of my sisters, and two of my closest cousins, married men from other countries. There are still a few continents not currently represented, but I hold out hope for the rest of the family! Personally, I love to witness cultures blending, overlapping, and being shared outside of the familial unit. The xenophobic tendency of our previous generations is slowly giving way to this cultural expansion which can help us with our global views as a nation. I’m all for it.

  • http://www.taralutmanagacayak.blogspot.com Tara

    It is wise to take precautions and like you I’ve never presented myself as anything other than American.

    The funny thing Anastasia is that the negative voices were all speaking from ignorance, so I found it difficult to give then any credence. What all the conversation did however was to ensure we questioned ourselves stringently to make sure we were as prepared as possible for what we were committing to.

    The longer I live as an expat, the more I believe that everyone has a valid opinion – everyone is “right” when you look at things from their perspective. A different question is how do we all live together given our opposing viewpoints? (Devdutt Pattanaik had an interesting way of looking at that in his TED talk.)

    I think marriages like ours can help provide an answer.

  • http://www.taralutmanagacayak.blogspot.com Tara

    It is wise to take precautions and like you I’ve never presented myself as anything other than American.

    The funny thing Anastasia is that the negative voices were all speaking from ignorance, so I found it difficult to give then any credence. What all the conversation did however was to ensure we questioned ourselves stringently to make sure we were as prepared as possible for what we were committing to.

    The longer I live as an expat, the more I believe that everyone has a valid opinion – everyone is “right” when you look at things from their perspective. A different question is how do we all live together given our opposing viewpoints? (Devdutt Pattanaik had an interesting way of looking at that in his TED talk.)

    I think marriages like ours can help provide an answer.

  • Anastasia

    Tara! I can identify with the shifting climate and sudden lack of tolerance you experienced for your union after September 11th — especially with a new husband fitting a random FBI most-wanted profile…

    We were married in TR the month before, and returned to our lives and home in what soon became New York’s Ground Zero. When our post office finally began to operate again, my Turkish husband’s mail would arrive opened, as if we were under surveillance.

    Living abroad for 11 years I have never pretended to be “Canadian” to avoid the backlash of the States’ foreign policies (I’d rather talk to people and learn what they think about it, and have a chance to share what I think as well), but I do take some precautions, such as those recommended by the consulate. After 9/11 I started taking new ones. A responsibility of global citizenship, I suppose.

    Whether or not we actively share what we know or are learning about our partner’s culture, I think the people around us can see that if we can exist in harmony, they can too.

  • http://www.expatharem.com/identity-messages/ Anastasia

    Tara! I can identify with the shifting climate and sudden lack of tolerance you experienced for your union after September 11th — especially with a new husband fitting a random FBI most-wanted profile…

    We were married in TR the month before, and returned to our lives and home in what soon became New York’s Ground Zero. When our post office finally began to operate again, my Turkish husband’s mail would arrive opened, as if we were under surveillance.

    Living abroad for 11 years I have never pretended to be “Canadian” to avoid the backlash of the States’ foreign policies (I’d rather talk to people and learn what they think about it, and have a chance to share what I think as well), but I do take some precautions, such as those recommended by the consulate. After 9/11 I started taking new ones. A responsibility of global citizenship, I suppose.

    Whether or not we actively share what we know or are learning about our partner’s culture, I think the people around us can see that if we can exist in harmony, they can too.

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