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Southern Blend: A Dating Experiment

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David Arroyo-Garay's family, however, was not quite as tolerant.

The 24-year-old Puerto Rican male says he actually rarely dates within his race. Growing up in his neighborhood in Fayetteville, N.C., he regularly associated with black people and attended a predominately white school. He didn't spend time with many Hispanics while growing up; therefore, his serious relationships were usually with people from other ethnic groups. Though he experienced the initial "shock" when meeting a date's parents and has been questioned by some of them about his legal status in America, much of the major pushback was from his own family.

"They definitely had a problem with it early on," he said, explaining that they wondered what he saw in other races that he didn't see in his own — and if the other races respected his heritage.

He contends that dating outside his race was never an issue of shunning his own, but that he simply feels his culture is not the only one that can produce an adequate woman for him to date. He admits that his family is coming around now because he embraces his culture more than they do, in that he is earning his master's in Latin American studies, working for the Latin American Coalition and has become fluent in Spanish.

For Arroyo-Garay, the racial issue can lend itself to socio-economic and class-division issues as well and that a learning curve definitely exists between cultures. He cited an instance where a white former girlfriend was stressed out that they were going to be late to a friend's house, and he was stressed out that they would be too early. In white America, he said, punctuality is respectful; in Latin culture, it can be considered rude. This time around, however, he was the first to arrive for the date at Bask, and he and Cook wasted no time getting to the good stuff.

Race was addressed right away, with Cook inquiring about Arroyo-Garay's ethnicity, and him admitting he hasn't dated women of his own race. Their body language appeared a bit stiff at first, with Arroyo-Garay rubbing his hands under the table and Cook keeping one arm in her lap. They would both later say that any initial anxiety they felt was due more to the blind-date component rather than any racial element. In fact, Arroyo-Garay said he felt comfortable enough to drop the term "African-American" almost immediately and revert to using "black" for the duration of their date — but he was P.C. at the start to be sure.

Cook disclosed conversations she's had with her girlfriends about the disparity between black men and black women regarding education levels and how it makes dating frustrating. But, for her part, she said she doesn't necessarily need a mate with a Ph.D and wouldn't mind having him be in control of the home.

The flow seemed natural despite a few brief lulls and them even joking about what else they could talk about. With the elephant decidedly escorted out of the room, the conversation progressed steadily, dabbling in politics, family, career and hobbies. The talk turning to relationships helped drive the momentum, though not much else was discussed in terms of race.

In the end, Cook was surprised by their commonalities — such as their love for grassroots, service-oriented initiatives. She said it was definitely "not what she expected" — to be able to relate on so many levels to someone outside of her race. Similarly, one thing that impressed Arroyo-Garay about Cook was her closeness with her family, which he said he was not used to hearing from people he's dated of any race.

Arroyo-Garay added that since he and Cook are both minorities, there was an added level of comfort and understanding, unlike his dates with white women. For example, he feels he can freely discuss the issue of racial profiling and being unduly pulled over by the police with a black woman without worrying about dubious reactions.

Cook said she didn't feel like she was talking to a Hispanic man. She felt comfortable in their conversation about race and didn't feel like she had to walk on eggshells.

"It definitely made me think that talking to people is just talking to people at the end of the day," she said. "Some people you're going to have something in common with and some people you're not. I think it's more dictated along other lines, namely socio-economic and other factors more so than predicated by race alone."


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