I read this article recently and it got me thinking. The TCK author considers the label “Asian American” and the way culture changes over time.
I consider myself Asian and American, but not Asian-American. What’s the difference? Asian-American is itself a culture, especially for the second-generation Asian-Americans, who are the first to be born in the United States, whereas their parents are the first generation because they immigrated there. Calling their parents non-Americans would be an insult to their struggle to adopt the values, practices, and sacred blue passport the crossed oceans and borders to obtain.
I know so many kids who can claim both “Asian” and “Amercian” for various reasons, but who are culturally quite different to each other.
I know kids who were born in the US to parents of Asian descent.
I know kids who were born in the US to first-generation immigrants.
I know kids who were born in China (for example) to Chinese parents, moved to the US where they gained citizenship, before returning to China as expatriates.
I know caucasian kids who are American citizens but who were born and raised wholly in Asia.
I know kids who were adopted from Asian countries and raised in white American families – either with all adopted siblings or a mix of biological and adopted.
All of these kids are influenced by both Asian and American cultures, but the term “Asian American” does not adequately describe them, and wouldn’t be applied to all of them.
In the past year I’ve spent a lot of time considering the differences between the “expat Chinese” kids I work with in the youth groups here. I was first intrigued to consider this following the comments of a teenage girl who had recently moved to China having spent all her time in a predominately white area of the US. She had been adopted from China as a baby and looked similar to her Asian-American classmates, but soon realised that she was missing something they had – there was a cultural difference she hadn’t expected. She found that she felt more “at home” with Caucasian American teens, even those who had lived in China long term.
I think it’s important to understand that the “Third Culture” of a TCK is not one great shared cultural experience. It is the place of overlap, where various cultures converge. TCKs are not able to relate because they have the same culture(s), but because each of them is juggling the effects of several cultures. They all live the balancing act between citizenship, familial cultures, and geographic cultures.
I sometimes think that a TCK experience (when the kids are exposed to a diverse expatriate environment) can be quite a positive thing for kids who are second-generation immigrants. It gives them an opportunity to mix with a range of people who are also juggling cultures. I think it makes it easier for them to really own and enjoy the cultural traditions of all the peoples that have affected them when everyone around them is doing the same thing. There is a freedom in being one of many.
I recall my sister once said that Americans have no culture of their own because they are just a mix of different European immigrants in one country. It is not just the fusion of cultures, it is the environment that helps birth a new culture, or in this case, cultures. Using the faulty logic of not having any culture, that means jazz music is just a mix of African rhythm and English folk music, which is not even close to what jazz is as a distinctly African-American-originated musical genre. In other words: cultures evolve. . .
As a Third Culture Kid and activist for the Asian-American community, I’ve grown to love them and have a special place for the Japanese-American and Chinese-American communities. When I look at these communities and at the Third Culture Kids, I feel what we have in common is both the struggle for identity and acceptance. Second-generation Asian-Americans in the 1980s and 1990s really had a lot of trouble wondering just who they were, with parents imposing old values onto them, being raised to be individuals with American perspectives, yet being seen as forever foreigners by their fellow citizens, to the point of being denizens.
Third Culture Kids would be lucky to have this, because at least the Asian-Americans have a place to call home, even if their neighbors don’t welcome them wholeheartedly. One day, they can dream of being accepted as fellow Americans in spite of the prejudices felt, but us Third Culture Kids usually need to be told that we are TCKs before we can establish a community of sorts, and even then, what draws us together besides our common experiences?
As Third Culture Kids, as global citizens, as individuals, we need to think of new ways to define and redefine ourselves. A fellow TCK, Brice Royer, told me that he doesn’t define himself based on his ethnicity, his nationality, or the country he lives in, but by the values and dreams he has; and the people he calls his own are people who share those values and dreams, not passports or ethnicity. . .
Culture is not an exclusive club that one can not partake in just because of race or nationality, nor is it something we should shun or see as something the allegorical Other has that makes us different from them. It is also not something that limits us, it is a set of guidelines and foundation for values, morals, practices, norms, ideas, and more. It changes over time, and it has a personal element to it which is why people call it “their” culture as something they can call theirs like a prized possession, for it is a part of how they define themselves. Here’s something we often forget: we can choose whatever we want to follow. We don’t have to do things because everyone else does it or our parents tell us what we have to do. But it is something to celebrate when you understand just what it means to you, which is hopefully more than just the skin color you were born with and the stuff your parents and society tell you to follow.