From what I have read and heard from other TCKs, one of the greatest struggles in growing up among so many different cultures is trying to decipher identity. I am learning in my classes at school (multicultural diversity and conflict transformation) that people don’t like ambiguity. Humans are incredibly good at categorizing. We can’t simply observe something and appreciate it’s simple existence. Instead, we have to determine the object (or person’s) purpose, it’s appearance, it’s place in relation to us.
What’s funny is that people tend to struggle when they can’t categorize something in a “usual” category. When we moved to the States (I was 8 years old), I remember my classmates having the most confused looks on their faces when I told them I was born in Thailand. They would just stare at me, as if looking harder would help them to see my Asian tint. Eventually they would say, “but you don’t look Thai.” Honestly, I was never really bothered by the comment. Maybe it was because we were all just kids, and kids can get away with saying and hearing things that are quickly forgiven.
Sometimes, as a kid, I wished that I could look Asian. Then I would have a way of showing people what I felt… that Thailand was part of me. Instead, I felt like people wouldn’t allow me to accept both parts of my identity. They would immediately categorize me as American only, even after hearing about my history. I know I’m not Thai. I know that my experience in Thailand was very westernized because of the people I was with. But it was hard for me when I first came to America to have that experience discounted because it was easier to stick me in a single category instead of accepting that I was a mix of a lot of different categories.
I think this is a common need among TCKs… to be accepted as having many experiences and belonging to many cultures that make up a single identity.
I’m not innocent of the categorization game. I put people into categories just like anyone else, and I struggle when there’s no perfect category to put someone (including myself) in. Maybe it’s because a mix of categories makes it more difficult to understand someone. I’m not sure. Have you ever thought what it would be like to be seen without a category? Without a label? Maybe one day we’ll get a whole lot better at appreciating each person as unique and yet part of something bigger that we may not understand.