By Pilar Marrero
Their differences are many: He is from Taiwan, the son of Chinese refugees who fled Mao Zedong’s Communist China. She is from Puerto Rico, living in Los Angeles, where she made a career as a television journalist and, later, a psychologist.
Nancy and Michael met in 2014, when his company took over a day-care program for adults with disabilities that she directed in Santa Clarita. She left the company shortly thereafter, but they had started dating after he offered to take her to a doctor’s appointment.
“I thought that was weird,” she said, but agreed.
Nine years later, they are still together. “Our cultures are very different,” Nancy says. “But we are partners—he is the one for me.”
Michael is more reserved, less outgoing, less talkative. Nancy is outgoing, loves music and dancing and tends to kiss and hug people “even if I don’t know them,” she says, something Michael is not accustomed to.
For Michael, Nancy was just “easy to like.” She had empathy.
For Nancy, Michael was the opposite of the “macho” culture that she fled when she left Puerto Rico. “He has respect for women.”
Nancy and Michael have been together since 2014. Their relationship was strengthened after Nancy was diagnosed with cancer in 2018.
“The male chauvinist culture—I couldn’t take it,” Nancy says. Michael adds: “I don’t even know what that is.”
But Nancy really saw what Michael was made of when she was diagnosed with cancer back in June of 2018.
“That’s when I truly saw him, like I had never seen another human being before in terms of his support for me, his undying support,” she says. “He was there for every single chemotherapy session, he slept with me in the hospital room by my bed. I got extremely ill, and he would clean me. I spent almost a year in bed, screaming from the severe pain every day. He offered unwavering support through hell, making everything easier.”
Michael waves this off.
“It wasn’t so bad for me,” he says. “I enjoyed the hospital food and everything.”
Five years later, Nancy is close to being declared in remission and their relationship is as strong as ever. They share a passion for travel, and he has accompanied her to Puerto Rico. But, watching Latino television and visiting the island, Michael saw things that puzzled him greatly.
“The sexualization of young girls, the obvious exploitation of women—and men—that made me uncomfortable for sure,” he says. “Chinese tend to be much more reserved.”
Michael also did not understand what he describes as the cavalier attitude of many Latino men, and the examples he saw of Latina women marrying more than once, with children from different husbands.
“He doesn’t understand that’s completely normal,” Nancy says. “I would explain it to him, my sister had a husband, he left her, so she was alone with a baby and then she had a second husband. He was like, no, that’s not possible.”
Michael sees the whole thing as unreal. “Like a Spanish novela,” he chuckles. “It’s so strange to me that society acquiesces to this kind of male behavior.”
For Nancy, Michael’s culture is completely fascinating. “They appreciate art from a completely different perspective. His mom is an artist, she can do calligraphy in Chinese, she knows Chinse opera. For me it’s like salsa and merengue,” she laughs.
At first, Nancy’s family was skeptical about Michael. “Un chino… they would say, what is he about, what does he eat?”
However, Nancy says she learns something new from Michael every day. “They speak Mandarin Chinese, a very rich language, and everything is based on stories. It’s poetic, so he is always making analogies with these stories about things that happen to me. It enriches my life.”
Nancy and Michael have also seen the ugliness of anti-Asian hate that has endured in some corners of the United States for centuries.
“We were having dinner in Turlock, a small town in Stanislaus County,” Nancy says. “We went out of the restaurant and these two Anglo guys come at us and say, ‘What is this f—— Chinese doing here?’ We just left as fast as we could.”
Having overcome the worst of her illness, Michael and Nancy recently opened a business together. It’s an adult health care center, much like the one they met in.
Both think they will be together for the rest of their lives. Nancy is 58, and Michael is 52.
“We are together like one person,” Nancy says. “But we respect our differences.”
This article is part of the Love Across Colorlines series, a collaboration of 20+ ethnic media outlets looking at interracial marriage in California at a time of rising hate. Visit Love Across Colorlines to see more in the series.