Though we’re living in modern times, many still consider interracial relationships unusual, especially when it comes to Black women dating Asian men.
This is where Joe Lee and Alena Maze come in, showing just how rare such couplings are and how important it is to see them. Married for almost two years, the couple first met in high school and remained good friends throughout their adult lives.
As a family of 7 living in Baltimore, Maryland, the couple built MazeLee, a YouTube channel that documents their travels, their love and their lives. The majority of the videos — which are often no more than 15 minutes long — feature the kids, extended family members, marriage and cultural differences, as well as discussions related to their Christian faith.
Alena, who is currently going for her PhD, and Joe, a street photographer, spoke to us about the balance of work and life.
When and how did you meet?
We met back in high school in the 9th grade. We became good friends and stayed in contact after we graduated.
Have you dated black women prior to meeting Alena?
Was Joe your first Korean boyfriend?
How did your families come to accept your relationship?
Alena: My family accepted the idea of me marrying Joe pretty quickly. They were a little apprehensive on if Joe would be able to handle all of the responsibilities that come with raising a large family because I had four children before our relationship, so it was going to be a new experience for him. My sisters have always liked Joe and mainly wanted to make sure he was ready for the challenge. My dad was especially supportive seeing that I was remarrying shortly after divorce.
Joe: My father was extremely tough on my sister when she was dating a white guy. When they eventually got married, he saw love and happiness in their relationship. I believe that was the pivotal moment when his stances on race diffused. Now, he just wants us to be happy. My mother was more lenient on my sister’s relationship, but when I married Alena, she was furious with the idea of me marrying a black woman with four children. However, she’s been accepting our marriage, especially after seeing our son.
Explain Blasian and how that term gets used.
Blasian literally means “black and Asian”. People have used it to describe relationships where one partner is black and the other is Asian. However, we feel it’s more appropriately used to describe an individual who is of African and Asian decent. Actually, the term “Afroasian” seems to be a better suit.
How did you learn to join your two different lives and personalities?
Joe: We’ve always been friends, so our personalities have always meshed well in a “Tom & Jerry” type of way. Alena is one of the few people in my life that can push me to extremes, but I like that because I’m usually very laid back and can become too easygoing. She encourages me to be more passionate about the things I want in life. She is my toughest critic, and my biggest fan. I love her.
Alena: Joe and I are both critical and competitive in different ways. We’re constantly challenging each other’s thoughts and intellect so I think that’s why we get along. I just like him and look up to him. The first year, we spent adjusting our lives together with the kids and getting them accustomed to having a new father. It’s a work in progress and we are still working on it every day.
What has the experience of dating outside of your racial category been like for the both of you? What has it taught you about yourselves and those around you?
Joe: It’s shown me how close-minded and ignorant my Korean friends and aquaintances are towards black people and the culture. They love the products that derive from black culture (i.e. music, fashion, slang), but do not seem to consider black people as a real option for marriage. Cultural appropriation is a real issue. Being married to Alena has brought awareness to even myself as to why I didn’t really date a black girl sooner.
Alena: For me, the experience has been pretty normal, just like any other relationship. There are always race related issues that come up, some things I have to explain to Joe about our culture and things he has to explain to me. I definitely eat a lot more Korean food than I’ve ever eaten in my life now. I’ve learned that some people put too much emphasis on interracial dating just for “show”. For me it’s more important about the blending of two cultures, for our children’s sake. Making sure our children learn the Korean language and etiquette, while also having pride in their African roots and traditions.
How does religion play a role in your marriage?
Our faith in God has been the foundation of our relationship. No matter how difficult we are with each other, we go to the same God for guidance and answers, so there is peace in knowing that we are on the same team.
When you step out of the house together, do people stop and stare? Or has it become a norm in your community to see interracial couples/marriages?
No, no one stares but people always seem to think that we aren’t a couple. If we walk in a store together, they would ask us individually the same question assuming that we are separate customers. This happens often when we dine at restaurants as well. When we are at the Korean grocery store, people seem to be more intrigued and stop us to ask questions.
In our community, there are a lot of interracial relationships, but a black woman with a Korean guy is extremely rare.
Joe: I don’t know any of my Korean friends who have dated a black woman.
Alena: I don’t have any black friends who have dated a Korean guy.
What are some of the reactions you get from your followers?
Joe: They’re mostly positive. Most seem to be surprised to see a Korean guy marry a black woman with four children, but I’m surprised a black woman with four children married me- a single Korean guy with no experience running a family. Some of our followers say that our marriage will fail because we are too different as we show how our differences cause friction, but I think that most of our followers admire our raw and honest expression on relationship and marriage.
Alena, do you speak Korean?
Not really, but Joe speaks Korean to our youngest children so I’ve picked up a few phrases.
What has marriage life taught you?
Joe: Marriage life has humbled me so much. I’ve had a lot of dating experience, but it’s nothing like marriage. Dating in my opinion, is just a self-satisfying phase to find out if this is a compatible person. A Christian marriage on the otherhand demands purpose. It is living out the union as a display of God’s love towards us. It’s no longer about what we want in a mate, but about us coming together to amplify our effectiveness in order to further God’s Kingdom. With that mentality, I’ve recognized how unaligned I was with God, as I was really only serving myself. It’s matured my faith and kept me accountable as I have a person to constantly remind me that if we aren’t doing well, then our faith isn’t doing well.
Alena: It’s teaching me how to submit, sacrifice, and be silent.