Marriage is a lifelong adventure for Filipino and Iranian couple
The month of February is memorable for both Iran and the Philippines. In February 1979 the monarchy of Iran was overthrown by a bloody revolution replacing it with the Islamic Republic under Ayatollah Ruholla Kheomeini. Six years later, the EDSA Revolution in the Philippines toppled the 20-year dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, bringing back democracy under the leadership of President Corazon Aquino.
Both revolts changed lives, but neither Shahram Zakaria nor Serna Carino realized these events would bring them together in another country where they could rebuild their lives.
Shahram Zakaria was 14 years old in 1979. The new government of the Ayatollah was more oppressive than the previous one. It was moving away from the Western-inspired way of living that middle class and moderate Muslims were accustomed to. In the mid-‘80s the Zakaria family fled Iran and sought asylum in Canada.
The tumultuous change in Philippine governments discouraged Serna Carino from continuing to working the hospitality industry. She decided to find greener pastures in Canada a few months after the EDSA People Power upheaval.
When West and Southeast meet
In 1987, Serna and Shahram, now known as Zack, met through a common friend.
“He was a charmer,” Serna enthuses.
“Serna was very pleasant and funny,” Zack remembers.
Both were experiencing and sharing similar difficulties in a new country, and they hit it off despite Zack being Muslim and she, Catholic.
Their families were taken aback by the cultural differences but learned to accept their relationship later. As the saying goes love conquers all.
Before settling in, Zack and Serna prepared themselves to be well-equipped for the Canadian workforce.
Immigrants, particularly from non-English speaking countries like Iran have to undergo special classes in ESL (English as Second Language) to improve their proficiency.
“When I arrived, it was really hard to communicate because of our accents. In some instances, because of mispronouncing or misunderstanding, you feel like you’re being discriminated,” Serna explains.
Serna was working as a daycare assistant for young children aged 1 to 4 at the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) while attending a dental hygienist course.
“Zack was also a student and serving in the military in order to get into the university,” Serna says.
Despite coming from different backgrounds, Serna and Zack did not experience discrimination. Canada takes pride in its diversity and promotion of multiculturalism.
“There’s a freedom of speech and equality. People here are more respectful and tolerant of immigrants,” Serna says.
However, it took them quite some time to become citizens.
“It took me six years to become a Canadian citizen. Because my husband came here as a refugee, it took him eight years,” Serna says.
When two become one
On April 27, 1990, Serna and Zack got married in a civil ceremony at the Toronto City Hall. Now with two grown up children, a 27-year-old daughter and 23-year-old son, Serna and Zack look back on their struggles as a married interracial couple living in a secular Western country.
Raising the children as Catholics or Muslims could be touchy. But Zack did not mind. He had already embraced secularism. Serna, a practicing Catholic, raised the children as Catholics.
They chose Catholic based-education for the children who, after completing their primary and secondary education in private Catholic schools, have degrees from the public University of Toronto.
The couple also attribute the successful upbringing of their children to the presence of a support system. Serna’s mother was in Canada during the kids’ growing up years, while Zack’s whole family was all settled in Canada.
“My children understand Tagalog and both have grown up with my mother, so they know our Filipino cultures, like pagmamano, our food and the like. They also know their Persian heritage because they spend time with their paternal grandparents and hang out with relatives on their father’s side,” Serna says.
The Zakarias have visited the Philippines and enjoyed Filipino culture, particularly the food, beaches, and the endless stream of relatives and friends.
More than 40 years after the Iranian Revolution, Zack has not considered visiting his homeland. Their children may never taste authentic kebab, or bademjan, butthey know that in distant West Asia, there is an ancient land called Persia where their ancestors once lived.
Marriage is an adventure
After 27 years of marriage, Serna and Zack’s love remains strong, despite individual and cultural differences. For both of them, being married is a lifelong adventure.
“Food, humor and settling disputes must be done as soon as both your heads cool off. Open communication is still the best way to understand each other,” Serna says.
“Marrying into an intercultural family has given me the opportunity to become more open-minded, able to experience different cultural traditions. Of course, I was also able to share my Filipino heritage with someone unfamiliar with our culture. It has its challenges, but I am grateful my husband is open minded and receptive to our differences.”