Where Is Home for a Third-Culture Kid?

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Ironically, I read this article by Doreen Carvajal  this morning, after having a long talk with my family yesterday about Third Culture Kids. Specifically, about my nephew’s longtime insistance that he is a Third Culture kid. His father is a Swedish-American born in Alabama and raised in Southern California. His mother was born in Tokyo, attended university in Los Angeles. They married, moved to Northern California and started a family.

The filmmaker Aga Alegria, A third-culture kid herself, she started her project with an eight minute film, “Les Passagers: A TCK Story,” that explored her own nomadic life roaming from Poland, to Germany, to Canada and her yearning to belong somewhere.

He and his sisters grew up speaking both Japanese and English—Japanese with their mother and English with their father—and spent every Saturday during the school year at Japanese School to keep their skills sharp. When they were growing up, I learned to speak to them in their mother’s tongue, mostly because they snapped to attention when they heard it. I’m now able to talk to children about mealtimes, potty training, and discipline, but I think I’d insult any adult I tried to communicate with because I never learned the formal adress and tenses of Japanese. For 25 years I’ve watched these beautiful, mixed-heritage children with curly and dark and light and straight hair and whiter or browner faces grow to their Swedish father’s height, towering over their petite mother. They are truly Third Culture Kids.

Listening to the family discussion, I could not decide whether they felt “Third Culture” because they belonged to three cultures or because they didn’t feel quite at home in any one of them. My nephew claimed he was not Japanese, and not American. He was something else.

Today, he is living in Mongolia as part of his tour with the Peace Corps. As a part of his ritual acceptance into his village, he slaughtered a goat and reached into its body and freed its heart while the elders help the goat aloft for him. There is one more culture for him to tuck under his belt.

The concept of a Third Culture Child is growing and spreading, as in NewYork Times’ blogger Doreen Carvajal’s May 28 post. She takes solace in reading about grownup third-culture kids:

The filmmaker Aga Alegria, who now lives in Ibiza, Spain, is finishing a full-length documentary about global children, conducting interviews in Germany, Spain, Trinidad and Canada. A third-culture kid herself, she started her project with an eight minute film, “Les Passagers: A TCK Story,” that explored her own nomadic life roaming from Poland, to Germany, to Canada and her yearning to belong somewhere. Ms. Alegria raised part of the money to fund her project through crowd-sourcing and plans to finish the movie this year.

She has found that by the time they are grown up, some of these TCKs are unmoored and restless, associating airports, movement and a suitcase with home. Others complain about moments of feeling lost and friendless, baffled by the quest to belong. I take comfort from a line in her short movie: “I come from here. I come from there. In truth I come from everywhere.”

“Coming from everywhere” is certainly a theme running through my far-flung, wildly diverse, extended family. When we gather, we come from Sacramento, Long Beach, Tokyo, Chicago, Los Gatos, Scotts Valley, Hayward, and now, Mongolia.

My Extended, far-flung family

That doesn’t include my father’s side of the family, who have hailed from New York, Atlanta, Dayton, Connecticut, and one generation earlier, Ireland and Scotland. I definitely feel affinity with those who come from everywhere and nowhere; I have one brother, three half-brothers, two stepbrothers, a stepsister—plus all their spouses and children,—a stepmother, and a stepfather. I also have three children, an ex-husband, parents-in-law, three stepsons, and their mother, all of whom are woven into each other lives. It’s not easy to be in the same place and almost never at the same time, but we do make a rich, colorful, and absolutely fascinating basket of cultures.

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