You Know You've "Arrived" When People Butcher Your Name

Many thanks to Boston Tweetup TV for the Blogging While Brown Boston Meetup plug. You get the award for the most "unique" and humorous butchering of my name.  From this day forward, I will go by "E. Teenuke O'Diver."


Why Boston

A photo I took the last time my parents were in town.  The Boston church where they were married.

Patriot's Day is coming up this Monday, and it's one of those holidays you're completely oblivious to unless you live in Massachusetts.  Celebrated annually on the third Monday of April, this holiday commemorates the first battles of the American Revolution that took place in Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts.  So imagine my pleasant surprise when I realized that the Blogging While Brown Boston Meetup I am hosting on Friday is being held in the Crispus Attucks Room! Crispus Attucks, a black man (although I'm sure his racial classification was probably much different in the 1770s), was the first person shot and killed by the British in the American Revolution. In fact, the site where he died is a five minute walk from my apartment building.

Considering the serendipitous confluence of these two events, I thought this would be a good week to tackle the age-old question asked of every black person who is not from Boston and moves to Boston of their own volition:

"Why the $#$@$#%! would you move to BOSTON?!"  

I get it, the city still has quite the public image problem, especially among adults of a certain age group who continue to circulate the common refrain that Boston is "a racist city."  Now granted, about 95% of the people I've heard this from a) have never actually visited Boston or b) were in Boston for 48 hours for a work conference and base their opinion on bad customer service at a restaurant.  But I guess a subjective opinion is subjectively valid.

Well, see, what had happened was, back in 2004, one Sunday morning after church in Durham, North Carolina, I met this guy who grew up in Woburn, Massachusetts.  After a year of friendship, nine months of dating, seven months of engagement, a year of marriage, we gave our friends and family the shock of their lives and announced our move to Boston for my husband's job.  In their minds, Boston had nothing for us: no family, no friends, no sweet tea.  Sadly, I don't recall too many expressions of excitement or happiness; just projections of insecurity and fear masked by a whole lot of questions:

"You've only been married a year, what are you going to do for a support system?"
"How are you going to find a church?"
"Is it safe?"
"You're not really going to raise children in the city are you?"
"Isn't the cost of living really high?"
"Why would you move up there to rent when housing is so much cheaper in the South?"
"You don't expect me to visit do you? It's too cold up there..."
"Why don't black people up there speak to each other?"

Fast-forward four years, I'm still growing in my appreciation of our adopted home.  It has less to do with surviving winters or dealing with the infamous lack of warmth Bostonians display to each other than my amazement at how much a family can achieve in just one generation.

My parents emigrated to the United States from Nigeria in the 1970s.  They came for the same two reasons as the rest of their friends: educational opportunity for themselves and their children.  After spending a year sleeping on a friend's couch in New York, my dad landed in Boston and brought my mom over.  They studied at Northeastern and UMass-Boston full-time, worked full-time, and raised two children full-time.  Living in a rental owned by Haitian family in Mattapan, my parents depended on the kindness of neighbors, friends, the church, and the government welfare system.

What they lacked in material wealth they made up for in deep relationships among their tight-knit, immigrant community.  So now when I walk around the city, the fruit of their sacrifice, labor, suffering and pain, I walk with my back a little straighter, my head held a little higher.  Because I know that the hotels and office buildings where I now run meetings and attend cocktail receptions are the very places my mother and her friends cleaned as a hotel maids and where my father and his friends worked graveyard shifts as a security guards.  And without them, there is no me.

The fact that so many people make blanket statements about places they've never visited speaks more to our propensity to fear the unknown, usually masked as "regional snobbery."  The West Coast is lazy, unproductive, passive aggressive, inclined to smoke weed, and way into their feelings.  The East Coast is anal retentive, mean, cold, violent, expensive, crowded, dirty, and not getting enough sunlight.  The South is S-L-O-W, overweight, hard to understand, not as intellectually engaged, and just straight country.  The Midwest? Well, it's just really cold and desolate.  And the Northeast is a den of abomination and seafood.

But what moving to Boston has taught me is that places are more the same than they are different.  It doesn't matter if the New York Times reports that the South or the North or Mars is the new utopian Shangri-la for interracial families, because in two weeks there will be another article, or study, or interview that says the exact opposite.  People will be people.  Racism and ignorance cannot be limited to a particular ethnicity, geographical boundary, socio-economic status, level of education, or profession.  And who knows, maybe a year from now--heck maybe even a week from now--I may be so fed up with snow and exorbitant heating bills that I start planning a defection back South.  But what I do know, at least right now, is that I love this city.  So when people ask, "Why Boston?"  I simply respond: "Because it feels like home."

Surviving Your Interracial Wedding Without Killing Your Relatives

If I close my eyes and change the accent a little, I'd swear it was my father talking...minus the free house.

Weddings, like funerals, tend to bring out the best and worst in families.  In preparation for the upcoming wedding season, I thought it would be helpful to share some wisdom I gleaned from surviving our own wedding (relatively) unscathed.

10.  Have The Tough Conversations Early.
Every culture has its own norms about weddings.  Generally, Western traditions place most of the planning responsibilities on the bride's family, but other traditions may place some responsibility equally on the groom's family or extended family members.  Take time early on in your planning to discuss expectations around roles, responsibilities, and most importantly, who's writing which checks to whom.

9.  Know Your Deal Breakers.
Unless your name happens to be Kate Middleton or Prince William of Wales,  you may need to make some compromises around your wedding.  So it's important to know what things are most important and which things you could care less about.  For example, I'm a stickler for time, and am well aware of the tendency for Nigerian functions to start at least one hour late.  On our wedding website I put "NO NIGERIAN TIME" next to the ceremony start time, and I told my family: "I love you and I want you to be part of our ceremony.  But if it's time to start and you're not there, as long as me, my husband-to-be, and the Pastor are there, we're starting."  And that's exactly what happened.

8.  Remember That The World Is Still Turning.
After our wedding, I remember a friend mentioning some unspoken rule that friends shouldn't call until three months after the wedding.  "What?!" I replied, "Who said that?!  That's the stupidest thing I ever heard!"  The rest of the world doesn't stop just because you're planning a wedding.  It may be your priority, you can't assume others feel the same way.  Hopefully you have more to contribute to a conversation than ideas about the ultimate wedding favor, the prices of flowers, or what cake/filling/fondant combination best suits your fancy.  Trust me, your friends will thank you later.

7.  Hijack The Reception Playlist
Should you find yourself having a "Whose Wedding Is This Anyway?" moment as your wedding day approaches, exert some control by slipping the deejay/band/musician your top picks for reception music.  Who cares if your future in-laws like to gather around in a drunken circle and scream "Sweet Caroline," "Don't Stop Believing," and "Livin' On A Prayer" at the top of their lungs?  If you want Kanye and Nirvana, you get Kanye and Nirvana.

6.  Make Sure Your Vendors Knows The Complexions Involved.
Shopping for wedding vendors got down right hilarious at times, especially when we met a photographer in Baltimore we nicknamed "The Dog Whisperer" because he seemed more interested in talking to us about his dog's psycho-emotional needs than our wedding photography.  Eventually we did find our photographer, Tony "That's Hot" Brown, also known locally in Maryland as "The Interracial Couple Photographer."  Unbeknownst to us, most of his prior clients were interracial couples which meant he had significant experience when it came to appropriate lighting for different complexions in the same picture.  Very important.

5.  Dance Lessons.
See: "If You're White, Keep It Tight."

4.  Don't Play Travel Agent.
Once you've booked a block of hotel rooms, your work is done.  Guests having visa problems? Send them to the State Department.  Guests looking for things to do?  Send them to the state/city tourism office.  Guests missed the room block deadline?  Send them to TripAdvisor.  Your guests don't expect you to plan their vacations any other time of the year so why start now?

3.  Turn Off Your Cell Phone.
If one of your guests calls you or your groom on the morning of your wedding day to ask for directions to the ceremony, to find out where you are registered, or (Heaven forbid) to RSVP, then something went terribly wrong.  Even if you're not using a wedding planner, let that guest consult with the internet, a relative, or a friend.

2.  Find a Hideout.
I refused to be "that bride": red-eyed and baggy-eyed, nodding off at the altar.  I refused to fill my days leading up to my wedding with non-stop airport runs,  food runs to feed all the people staying at my parents' house, or trips to Six Flags to chaperone small cousins.  Oh no.  I am not the one.  So I did what any reasonable bride would do: I hid.  My dear friend and her parents let me stay at their home during the week of the wedding.  I saw it as a win-win: my parents had an extra room to use for guests, and I maintained my sanity.

1.  Elope.
While we were at the county courthouse for our marriage license a few days before the wedding, I tried to convince my husband into getting married on the spot: "Come on! No one will know.  It'll be our little secret.  We'll still have the wedding.  But there'll be our 'Anniversary' and then there'll be our 'real Anniversary' that only you and I know about."  But cooler heads prevailed and we got married as planned.  *wink*