Cross Cultural love is becoming increasingly prevalent in our global world. This story, about two Chilean women who met and married two Nebraska, USA farmers, is but one of many.
It was the spring of 1966. Cecilia was traveling with her parents and sisters, Carmen and Paulina, from their home in Santiago, Chile to Mendoza, Argentina for a local wine festival. While standing in line at the customs checkpoint in the middle of the Andes mountains, Cecilia met Willard. He was a handsome farmer from Nebraska who was traveling with a caravan of adventures taking an inaugural drive from the top of the Pan-American highway, in Canada, to the bottom, in the Patagonia. After being instantly love-struck with this woman, Willard left his group in order to be with Cecilia in Santiago. Soon after, he had to return home to begin planting crops. But, the intense longing between them only grew. After three months, Willard flew to Santiago to marry Cecilia and bring her back to his small farm in Nebraska to start a new life together.
Six Years Later
April 1972, Cecilia received the tragic news that her mother had been struck by a bus as she walked home from the beauty shop. She was killed instantly. Cecilia returned immediately to Chile to attend the funeral and to bring her sister, Carmen, back with her to Nebraska on a student visa, where she could care for her and figure out what would be next.
Next, as it turned out, was another Chilean women marrying another Nebraska farmer. After living in Nebraska and attending school for two years, Carmen met Dennis through mutual friends while she was in college. However, her student visa was ending and she had to return to Chile. She and Dennis started writing letters and making calls to one another and, within six months, Dennis proposed in one such letter. This 19 year old Nebraska farm kid took his first international flight to Santiago to marry Carmen and bring her back to corn country where, like her older sister, she would start a new life as a farmer’s wife.
A few years later, Dennis and Carmen welcomed their second child – a daughter named Andrea (that’s me). Carmen contacted her old friend and neighbor, Maria (Nena), to ask if she would be the godmother. Nena agreed, and flew to the U.S. that summer for the baptism. At the ceremony, Nena met Dennis’s old classmate, friend, and fellow farmer Mike. Over the next several weeks of her visit, Nena and Mike developed a mutual interest in one another. After she returned to Chile, the two began writing letters and talking on the phone as often as they could. By December, Mike, yet another Nebraska farmer, got on a plane and traveled to the same middle-class neighborhood in urban Santiago to reunite with, and marry, Nena.
Three Chilean woman from the same street married three Nebraska farmers from the same region, each within six month of meeting. It was the 1980’s, and the internet wouldn’t reach their homes for another 15 years.
Fast forward. It’s 2018 – the age of social media, online dating, and a world that is getting smaller and smaller as the web connections grow deeper and deeper.
It’s been years since I’d spoken to my childhood friend, but I reached out to Carolina – the oldest daughter of Nena and Mike – to talk about our shared childhood memories growing up biculturally in Nebraska, reflections on our parents’ cross-cultural relationships, and how living in the digital age has impacted our own love lives. Carolina Korth is an actress, writer, and voice-over artist living in Queens, New York.
I asked Carolina what it was like for her, growing up as a product of this cross-cultural love story. “One one hand, I thought [my parent’s relationship] was really cool and really romantic, and on the other hand I also thought it was really impractical. Sometimes I thought it just brought a lot of heartache and arguing. But, I also didn’t grow up in a place where there was much acceptance of outside cultures.” Carolina confessed to being bullied in school at a very young age because of the ways her bicultural upbringing showed up in her speech and dress.
“My mom used to send me to school dressed like a schoolgirl in Chile, wearing little white embroidered dresses or clothes knit by relatives. I [later] identified a lot with Ugly Betty. I would wear barrettes with, like, five Incan people on them.” Growing up in rural Nebraska, Carolina never felt like she fit in. “I really felt like I had to hide [my Chilean side]. [And yet] I would see Latinos on TV and thought, ‘I can relate to you, but no one can know.’ I was obsessed with Maria and Luis on Sesame Street.”
Carolina, in fact, ended up moving to the very street in Astoria, Queens where Sesame Street was filmed. After over 12 years living in one of the most international cities in the world, Carolina has had plenty of opportunities to experience cross-cultural love connections of her own. “Years ago, I met a man from Israel while he was on a business trip in New York, and we quickly fell in love. Four days in, we really thought we were meant to be married to each other. In another time, we could have easily made a hasty decision to get married. But then we had a chance to get to know each other [online] and eventually realized it wasn’t going to work.”
What the Kids Think
Carolina and I reflected together on how quickly each of our parents made the decision to get married. But, in context, it made a lot of sense. Without the benefit of free email, video chatting, and worldwide texting, they had to rely on slow letters and expensive long-distance phone calls to connect. Add longing and hormones to the mix, and you’ve got a recipe for a potentially big decision made in short order – get married right away in order to be together in one place, legally.
Today, free video chatting and texting have made it so much easier to turn a chance meeting with an international traveler into a deeper relationship through more intimate and sustained communication. Ten years ago when I met my now-husband, Greg, at a museum in Australia, we had a similar spark of sudden attraction. He had been traveling there for nine months, but would be going back to his home in France the day after we met. For us, however, the question of being together was one we were able to comfortably answer with time – over two years, in fact, of daily Skype calls and regular visits to one another’s home countries. And, in the eight years since we’ve been married, Greg has been able to carry on the same level of frequent contact with his family as I did when I used to live in a different state from mine. This has meant a lot less resentment and isolation for him than perhaps my and Carolina’s moms experienced when they left their homes and families in a city of six-million people to move across the world and live on a farm in the middle of nowhere.
“My mom felt completely isolated and removed from her home and family,” Carolina explained. Although Nena was able to visit Chile, with her daughters, the trips were considered an incredible luxury. And, communication in between visits was slow and expensive. Both Carolina and I have memories of our moms yelling into corded phones – trying to physically bridge the distance with their raised and often tearful voices.
“[My parent’s relationship] was a lot of headache,” remembers Carolina, “what they expected of each other, what they valued, what they thought was appropriate. I’m joking when I say this, but my parents almost got divorced every Sunday before mass – always a fight about being late.” Carolina remembers the ways her dad’s German heritage values often clashed with her mom’s Chilean ones. “I think her isolation only added to the problem.”
Overcoming Cultural Barriers
Despite the difficulties she witnessed, watching her parents struggle to bridge cultural barriers, Carolina remains open to the idea of a long-term partnership with someone from a different country. Her younger sister, Claudia, did in fact marry a man from Peru. Her husband uses WhatsApp to talk to his family daily, and Claudia is extra supportive of regular visits home.
One thing both of us know from experience is that one cross-cultural romance can turn into a multi-generational story. When Greg and I got married, I realized we really made a very significant choice, both for ourselves and our families. To others, it seems very exotic that I have family all over the world. The other side of the coin, though, is that I never get to see them. In some ways, I worry that I’ve inflicted the same heartache on my son that I experienced – being estranged from family. But, as I watch him Skype with family in other states and other countries with equal ease, I’m less worried about his ability to feel rooted in familial ties.
Technology has completely changed so many things in our world, including the formation of international relationships. The smaller the world gets through increased communication and media exposure, the more natural opportunities we all have to partner with people from different countries. Despite our modern communication tools, however, cross-cultural relationships will always involve a complex interaction of values, beliefs, and expectations.
So, whatever happened to each of the people featured in this story? Unfortunately, both Nena and Mike and Carmen and Dennis eventually divorced – each after many years of trying hard to make it work. Cecilia lost her husband, Willard, to cancer after a long and devoted partnership. I’m currently married to my French husband – eight years and counting. Carolina, at the moment, is enjoying being single and free to travel the world.