The Jets meet the Sharks- Merging Cultures with My Destination Wedding

For me it was never a tough decision. I knew I wanted to get married in Puerto Rico. Growing up in New York City with parents born and raised there, I had heard all of the stories, how life used to be there, how they came from families that were poor, but proud and hardworking. How they didn’t have much, but everything they did have was either hand made, or fixed by hand because they could never afford anything new.

I have always tried to keep a strong tie to Puerto Rico. As a kid I would go ever summer with my parents, then as I got older I started going by myself and staying the whole summer with family and friends. In college I did a semester at Universidad Interamericana de San German in Puerto Rico so that I could get to know my PR peers. So it only seemed natural that Puerto Rico would be the place where I would make my love for my main squeeze, Stephen, official.

But what I didn’t realize while I was daydreaming about the super Latin wedding I was going to have in idilic Viejo San Juan, was that the love of my life, Stephen, was going to be a nice, white, mid-western boy.

Sure. Race doesn’t matter, for me it never has. (You could have filled the seats in the United Nations with all of the different people I have dated. The toughest was Muhammed, during Ramadan. I could never get used to the no eating until sunset thing.)

But, it still kind of does. Especially when it comes to a wedding. Puerto Ricans are a rare breed, my family included. They will jokingly refer to people’s short comings, saying things like, “ven aca gorda!” or in English, “come here fat one”, is something totally ok to say to your little chunky cousin, or the fat lady on the corner. If you are blind they will call you “el ciego”, “the blind one”, and if you are dark, you will get called, “el negro” “the black one”. This is all meant with all due respect, but is something that I have never, ever, encountered in Michigan, where Stephen’s family is from.

Stephen’s family comes from a long line of European ancestors. He is the classic, White, American mutt with a family lineage that goes waayyy back to England but also to Scotland, Ukraine and Poland.

His family, the Davies/Davidsons are smart and well read but also incredibly polite and in some ways, not so upfront. They will go to great lengths not to make anyone feel different, weird or out of place. I can imagine that Stephen’s mom could have an entire conversation with conjoined twins without ever saying to them “Oh, I didn’t even realize that you two were sisters.” They are just those people. Salt of the earth types.

Me and My Mom in the Kitchen!
My and My Dad After Working On Our Treehouse!

My family, is the complete opposite. We point out the obvious, we yell, we argue, we cry, we scream, we make fun of each other, we dance, we cook, we eat, we yell some more. In his family, they talk, they debate, they read, they write, they research, they cook, they eat and they nap. So making these seemingly different people comfortable at our wedding has been a worthy challenge. Here are some of the things that I am incorporating to make our wedding as enjoyable as possible for our families, old and new.

Keep it Bilingual

We are doing everything, for the most part, bilingually. This is so important when you are blending too cultures, even if a good chunk of the family speaks perfectly good English, like mine does, I feel that it is important to give a nod to where you came from through language. It sets the tone for the event and says, we are merging here, blending if you will. But no one culture is going to be more important than the other. Here are our invites. We tried to include Spanish wherever possible!

The FRONG and BACK of our Wedding Invitation
The INSIDE of our wedding invitation- A MAP!
The Outside of the RSVP card- In Spanish & English

Choose a location where you don’t have to be a local to get around.

There is a reason that tourists love Viejo San Juan, for example, because it is insanely beautiful and incredibly historic. Don’t let an area being a tourist “hot spot” dissuade you from choosing a wedding location. Remember, your new family are essentially tourists, they’re only for your wedding. (They are not real Puerto Ricans until they have passed out after drinking too many rum coconuts at my Abuela Flor’s coercion).

The Streets of Viejo San Juan

Include BOTH families as much as possible.

My family is going to feel snug as a bug being back in PR and family that lives there basically just rolled out of bed and made it over to the wedding, so the focus has to be on how to make your visiting family feel included. It is for that reason that we asked Stephen’s aunt, who is an Episcopal deacon, to marry us. My mom wasn’t too thrilled that I wasn’t getting married Catholic, and in a church, but the ceremony is going to mean so much more to have her marry us. She is like Stephen’s second mom and he loves her dearly (we will have one of my family translate too).

Make it a buffet!

Nothing is more impressive than having a huge spread of ethnic eats. It is one sure fire way to introduce your new family to your culture. Having a buffet also ensures that people can eat what they want to eat, a sit down dinner means your forced to eat what you’ve got, even if it is too spicy or your allergic to it.

Make sure everyone has something to eat!

When you are dealing with so many different types of people, with very different dietary restrictions, it is important to make sure that everyone has something to chew on! We are taking into account Aunt Bev’s peanut allergy, my Prima, Wanda’s gluten free diet, my Tio’s lactose intolerance, and my own vegetarian-ness.

Keep the food typical but with the spicy stuff on the side. In Puerto Rico, we like our food hot, both in temperature and in spice, but some people may not want to have their heads explode from so much heat. So we are putting additional mojo, and pique, the garlic and olive oil sauce and hot sauce on the side so people can make things as spicy as they need to be.

Remember your families are getting married too so make sure that each side feels safe, comfortable and equal.

Wish me luck on the big day!!!

Hopefully we will have THIS much fun at OUR wedding!

Find me on Facebook!

What's Fresh from @RachaelRay

Rachael Ray