Small World

Ethnic weddings bring some Americans closer to their roots

Some couples will travel the world for the perfect wedding attire.

Some couples will travel the world for the perfect wedding attire.

It could go either way: an engaged couple living in the United States may choose to have an American wedding spruced up with a few traditions from another culture. Or the pair may stick to its ethnic roots and add a few American touches for good measure.

Anu Johl and Mithu Singh are of the latter variety. While the second-generation Indians have certainly adapted well to American culture – she’s an entertainment PR manager, he’s an actor– Johl said the wedding will be 99 percent Sikh.

“That’s what you grow up with,” she said. “The Indian culture is so rich.”

Their March 29 wedding will take place in Yuba City, where Johl grew up. The reception will be held in Sacramento. The preparations, however, will warrant going all the way back to the parents’ homeland.

“There’s so much to buy for Indian weddings. It’s just cheaper to buy a plane ticket, buy the things in India, and ship them back here,” Singh said.

That includes gifts for family and friends, suits for members of the wedding party, and the all-important four to five outfits for the bride. Johl’s numerous garment changes were also driven by tradition.

Cesar Ayala also returned to his roots for some pre-marital shopping. Ayala wanted to express his Mexican culture by wearing a “traje de charro,” the popular garb of Mexican cowboys, also worn by mariachis. The North Sacramento resident drove all the way to Mexico to buy two suits: white for the wedding and black for the reception.

Stacie Saephan took the reverse approach, starting off in a Mien ensemble of loose-fitting black pants, a jacket, a turban of sorts, and pounds upon pounds of jewelry. After serving tea and greeting her guests, she traded in the black suit for an American, white wedding dress.

“That has become the accepted form of a Mien-American wedding,” said her husband, Kao Saechao.

A decade ago, 100 percent compliance with Mien tradition amounted to three days of nonstop eating, drinking, and paying homage to the parents. For simplicity’s sake, the nuptials are now condensed into a one-day party with no real equivalent to the American “I do’s.”

“It’s complicated,” Saechao said.

Johl and Singh can relate. The most Americanized aspect of their wedding will be the bachelor party and bridal shower, a definite departure from any traditional Indian party.

Ironically, Dayna Evans’ pre-wedding party will be that much more interesting because she’s embracing her German, rather than American, background. The day before the actual wedding on September 8, she and her fiancé Stephen Schmitt will have a “polter abend,” or “loud evening,” at which guests will break inexpensive china or pottery for the two hosts to clean up.

Evans is lucky that’s all she’ll have to put up with. She said Germans have been known to set baby carriages on roofs, kidnap the bride and hide money in sand.

“They’re just pranksters, they like to make it difficult,” she said.

After Evans and Schmitt are officially married, they’ll try their hand at another German ritual, sawing a log together.

“It’s a way to show that we can work together,” Evans said. “It’s the first task that we do as man and wife.”

Although the rest of the wedding will be fairly Americanized, Evans wanted to include these German practices because “it’s important to me to honor my heritage. I want to remember that I’m German because I’m proud of it.”