More than 30 per cent of Canadians on the Prairies say being in a relationship with someone from an ethnic background different from their own would make them uncomfortable.

The statistic was uncovered in an exclusive CBC poll on discrimination, and it comes as a surprise to former Winnipeggers Dr. Avtar Jassal and his wife, Michelina.

Jassal is Sikh and his wife is Italian. The couple got engaged in 2006 in Winnipeg and now live in Vancouver, where, based on what they see on a day-to-day basis, they estimate 60 to 70 per cent of marriages are interracial.

When the CBC interviewed the couple shortly before their wedding, they said their biggest concern was to make sure the marriage would be a joyous merger as opposed to a difficult clash of two cultures.

“It would have been easier if he was Italian, just for simple things such as language. You know, my mom still speaks Italian,” Michelina said.

Jassal agreed, saying it wouldn’t have hurt if his wife was Sikh.

“My mom’s saying ‘it’s hard now. I can’t speak Punjabi to her. How are we going to bring her to our family’s houses, or how are we going to take her to India or how is she going to relate to everyone if she doesn’t understand our culture?’” he said.

Eight years later, the couple says their difference in ethnic backgrounds did not cast a negative light over their marriage.

“It’s kind of surprising that back on the Prairies they think a little differently,” Jassal said, referring to the results of the poll on discrimination.

‘Compromise’ was the word he used to describe the key to a happy marriage, mixed or not. Jassal cited living situations, habits, likes and tastes as areas where differences can, and usually do, exist in a marriage.

His experience has shown him that a difference in culture can be addressed in the same way as any other aspect of a marriage.

Today, the couple not only manages to make things work between the two of them, but they have developed an arrangement for someone new: Their young son.

 

They have agreed that the newborn, who has an Italian first name and a middle name that reflects the Sikh aspect of his background, will be raised to follow both religions and cultures.

 

“I’ll raise him up Sikh, my wife will raise him up Catholic and he’ll decide what to do when he gets older,” Jassal said. “Or he can do a different religion if he wanted to, we’re open to anything.”

 

While the couple remains open-minded, Michelina acknowledges that not everyone is, as the recent poll results indicate.

 

She worries about the day her son will come home to tell her he had to deal with racism.

 

“Whether it be a racial slur or just a negative comment in general, we have to teach him how to respond and teach him that not everybody believes as we do. That’s just how it is, unfortunately,” Michelina said.