She's from Venezuela. He's from India. They're in love.

George Mason University students Yesica Suarez and Akshaan Arora.
George Mason University students Yesica Suarez and Akshaan Arora. ((Tracy A. Woodward))
By Tara Bahrampour
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 14, 2010

They were an unlikely couple from the start, as friends and relatives of Yesica Suarez and Akshaan Arora kept reminding them.

She's from Venezuela; he's from India. She's a devout Catholic; he's a Hindu-turned-atheist. She grew up speaking Spanish and watching telenovelas; he grew up speaking Hindi and watching Bollywood musicals.

Even at George Mason University -- where Suarez and Arora met and where immigrants and international students make the campus of 30,000 feel like the United Nations -- their melting-pot romance prompted friends to ask whether they knew what they were doing. They weren't sure how to answer.

"I never thought I would date anyone outside my culture," said Suarez, a 21-year-old senior studying information systems operation management.

"It's sometimes more easy to talk to someone who knows the language you do, who knows the culture you do," said Arora, a 21-year-old finance major.

The United States is home to every kind of immigrant -- Bosnians and Bolivians, Circassians and Frisians -- but when it comes to dating, and especially marrying, most people stick with their own kind. Of married immigrants in the United States, 10 percent are wed to immigrants from a different country, 19 percent to U.S. natives and 71 percent to immigrants from the same country, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

There are plenty of reasons not to date across cultures: religious differences, family intolerance, social gatherings that are deadly boring for the significant other who doesn't understand the language. But in the densely diverse Washington area, many immigrants cross paths, and where paths cross, love can blossom.

It did for Suarez and Arora. They met in 2008 when they pledged the same professional fraternity at George Mason and immediately formed a tight friendship. Both had long-distance relationships -- she with a guy who lived in Venezuela; he with a woman in Sweden -- and they would talk on the phone into the early hours of the morning, counseling each other on love.

But when those relationships ended, the two started to notice things about each other.

"Her lips," he said. "Definitely her lips."

His eyes -- "big, brown puppy eyes," Suarez said.

Arora started behaving differently. "He was being more special with me," she said. "Like we'd be at a friend's party and he'd be like, 'Hey, are you going to stay late?' And he would get the pool stick for me, and not for anyone else."

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