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Stronger Together

An interracial couple shares their story of acceptance and overcoming tough times.

By Sam David

Singapore is a melting pot of races and religions, and in today’s globalised communities, it’s really not surprising to see more interracial couples walking down the street. What are some challenges faced by mixed-raced couples? How does one navigate an interracial relationship? We speak to one couple to find out.

A change of heart

Oaky and DelfiOaky Teo, 38, dated Delfi Esfandi, 42, for about 11 years before tying the knot with him in 2011. Delfi’s father is Malay, and his mother is Eurasian, of Ceylonese, Portuguese, and Thai descent. Oaky is Chinese and a first-generation Singaporean from Malaysia, having moved here when she was just three years old. The two met through a mutual friend at Starbucks, where Delfi worked back then. Even though Oaky initially turned Delfi down when he asked her out on a date they reconnected months later and this time, they hit it off.

But it wasn’t an easy journey in the beginning.

Oaky opens up about how her father and her didn't speak for three years, because he wanted her to stop seeing Delfi. “It came as a shock to me. My mother, however, was fine with it. Though my father interacted with all races, it was different when it came to family. He didn't have a close relationship with someone of another race. I suppose it's always about the fear of the unknown.”

She also shares that her parents were worried that someone working in a cafe would not be able to provide for her. “It was a struggle for everyone in the family, and my poor mum and dad fought often over those three years because of this.”

Today however, it’s a different story. Oaky says that eventually, her father realised that she and Delfi were serious and committed to each other, and both parents have since gotten to know Delfi better and are very fond of him. “It makes me proud because it is all him, he is the perfect son-in-law for them. In fact, I think they love him more than they love me now!” Oaky jokes.

How did the couple deal with the initial objection? “I visited my parents every other weekend, turned up for all important occasions as a dutiful daughter, like Chinese New Year dinners, and tried not to aggravate them. But I stood my ground and made sure to speak well of Delfi when I could. I think I still do it out of habit.”

Delfi acknowledges that Oaky insisting he turn up for all family gatherings made a difference. “Birthdays, Chinese New Year, weddings – all of it. It felt awkward the first few times, but I just kept showing up. Through these gatherings, Oaky’s father could see what sort of person I was,” he said. The icebreaker was during a Chinese New Year dinner. “We ordered crab at a restaurant in Johor Bahru; I was wearing a nice shirt and as I struggling with the crab, it slipped out of my hand and sauce splattered everywhere. Oaky’s dad actually burst out laughing. That broke the awkwardness and led to us having a proper conversation.”

Changing times

Oaky and Delfi feel that compared to when they first started dating, interracial relationships are a lot more common today. “We still get looked at once in a while, but the stares are fewer, and a lot less judgemental, too,” says Oaky. “When it comes to being in a relationship with someone of a different race and culture, I think it’s important to discuss issues like beliefs.”

Oaky explains that she and Delfi made it a point to talk about any differences when they first starting dating and she believes things have worked out because they both hold similar ideas about their faith and so on. “Actually that's the key to any relationship, isn’t it? If you can't be patient and understanding about the differences, whatever they may be, then... that’s not good. Be kind. Be respectful.”

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