On a plane ride back from Ketchikan, Alaska, a flight attendant stopped to compliment a passenger on his startling blue eyes.
Days later, the flight attendant, Mardra, received a three-page handwritten love letter from Chris, the blue-eyed passenger, with his phone number inscribed at the bottom. They met in person on a layover two weeks later, the entire flight crew in tow to catch a glimpse of the fated mystery man.
“You know, I was married, and I have a child,” Mardra told Chris. “If you’re not fine with that, thank you for coming out.”
“I would love to take you out to dinner,” he replied. A year later, they were married.
Though their earnest romance might seem like it was lifted directly from the pages of a Nicholas Sparks novel, Chris and Mardra Jay will tell you there’s more to their story.
It was the 1980s. She was black, and he was white. It had been a long time since 1967, the seminal year that Mildred and Richard Loving famously used their own love to overturn the ban on interracial marriage. Still, there was a long way to go.
Mardra recalls that often her husband’s acquaintances wouldn’t treat her with respect.
“They would say, ‘You know your wife is colored, right?’ Right in front of me,” she says, adding that she felt like the two of them were a classroom for people who had never been exposed to an interracial couple.
Now in their 60s and 70s, Chris and Mardra know there’s been a lot of progress since they were young. Once a rarity, multiracial children are the second-fastest growing segment of the U.S. population according to official census data, and interracial marriage has lost much of its former taboo.
We spoke to four other interracial couples about their relationships in America today, and how far they think the nation has come.
1. Jill and Juan Corts.
Though no one would say it, Jill Corts often suspected the neighbors were only polite to her and her Latino husband, Juan, because of his social status.
“Sometimes I feel that they wouldn’t have talked to us, but they did because Juan was a doctor. If he was a blue-collar worker, maybe people wouldn’t have associated with us,” she recalls.
Juan said that friends and family were always supportive, though he didn’t remember a lot of interracial couples or racial tolerance growing up when his family would visit Texas.
“I remember being a teenager and being afraid to walk into a restaurant,” he says. “I worry it’s headed that way again.”
2. John Krause and Maria Chua.
When John Krause and Maria Chua got married, they had to contend with racism from his mother.
One night after dinner, she took Maria aside to tell her that “it would be very difficult for the children.”
“It literally got to the point where I had to tell my parents, if I have to pick between my parents and Maria, I’m picking Maria,” Krause says, adding that, “sometimes people don’t realize when they’re being racist.”
John’s parents eventually came around, and the couple now has two daughters.
3. Neelam Pathikonda and Lisa DeWolf.
After meeting on Facebook through mutual friends, Neelam Pathikonda asked Lisa DeWolf on a date.
“I saw Lisa and pretty much lightweight stalked her online,” Neelam says with a laugh. After they met, Lisa sold her house, quit her job, and moved to L.A. to be with Neelam. They married in 2013, in a traditional Hindu ceremony.
The wedding made some family members especially those who hadn’t originally supported their union change their mind.
“With the legalization of gay marriage and our big Hindu wedding, my mom definitely came around. She realized that this wasn’t a phase,” Neelam says, adding that it had been 12 years since she had come out.
When the couple finally had a child, Neelam’s father came around too.
Lisa and Neelam are nervous about what a Trump presidency will mean for them and their daughter. Still, they don’t plan on giving up their rights anytime soon.
“I think that certainly there has been progress made. Queer clubs used to be raided by the police, and as a community, we’ve come so far and we’re still demanding more,” Neelam explains.
4. Ben and Constance Hawkes.
Growing up as millennials, Ben and Constance Hawkes noticed a change in how mixed-race couples were treated.
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how supportive my friends and family have been,” Ben says, acknowledging that being white, he can’t speak for his wife’s experience.
For Constance, she’s had to contend with annoying comments about how “well-spoken” she is or people’s ideas that racism no longer exists.
Despite the deep hostility felt through the election cycle, Ben and Constance are hopeful.
“We’ve just seen so much more representation of mixed-race couples in TV shows, in the media,” Constance explains.
The last law banning interracial marriage in the United States was officially repealed in Alabama in 2000. Yet today, race relations in the U.S. are at a boiling point.
We’ve come a long way since 1967, but these couples and their experiences shed light on ways we can create a more tolerant world.