I may have mentioned before that I worked retail in a certain popular old country store/restaurant. Every Spring, the store sets up a large display of fantastically patriotic red, white, and blue items in preparation for the 4th of July. There are several variations of American flags on shirts, scarves, mugs, earrings, necklaces, toys, etc. This year, I was looking over the new merchandise when I noticed a magnet with a message that made me feel incredibly uncomfortable.
“May I never wake up from the American Dream.”
Once again, I want to share something that I noticed in my most recent interviews with Third Culture Kids. More than half of the ten individuals interviewed expressed, without prompting, that they would just as much prefer a citizenship in one of the other countries that they were raised in than in their own passport culture (America). For example, an older man (American) who grew up in the Philippines stated that he would almost prefer a Filipino citizenship than an American citizenship. Now, he is not a man who hates his country. In fact, he is a veteran of the US Navy. But he doesn’t relate to the “American Dream” either. In the Philippines, he grew up in an incredibly peaceful tribal community. When he moved to the States as a teenager, he was shocked and disturbed at the violence, language, and disrespect that was part of the culture…and he was just referring to High School!
There were other interviewees who expressed gratitude to be in the States and to be an American citizen. However, those same individuals, also, felt a great attachment to the country where they were raised (Mexico, China, Thailand, etc.). Though they are thankful for their identity in the US, some of them have an even stronger identity in a different country. With that identity comes pride and love for that country. But when that pride and love for another country is expressed, they risk being scoffed at and labeled as ungrateful.
“Confused loyalties can make TCKs seem unpatriotic and arrogant to their fellow citizens.” Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among worlds p. 90
When I read the magnet, “May I never wake up from the American Dream”, I was upset. l, as well as the TCKs that I spoke with, all agree that there are many fantastic aspects to America. There are many freedoms, that’s true. And I am VERY thankful for those freedoms. However, for those who grow up between so many different cultures, it can be hurtful to hear that Americans are ONLY interested in the American dream. By remaining ONLY in the American dream or the Canadian Dream or the Greek Dream (whatever it is!), you cast aside any concern for the cultures around it.
Third Culture Kids have the same fault. In the book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, Dave Pollock describes one reaction of TCKs…He refers to them as screamers. Screamers are individuals who deny any conformity with a culture and purposely take every action to distinguish themselves as unique. For example, an American kid who spent most of his life in Germany might return to the States and scoff at the “stupidity” of Americans while covering his room with German flags and posters of German athletes and musicians. Or maybe, the American kid is moving to Germany for the first time and chooses to remain as American as possible by refusing to learn the German language, scoffing at the “stupidity” of Germans, and covering his room with American flags and American athletes.
Patriotism is great! Don’t get me wrong… BUT, it’s also ok to open your eyes to the world. Wake up from that single-minded dream, and become a patriot of the world…Then you can claim a preference for a country or countries of your choice.
So what do we do?
- Help TCKs by becoming open-minded to the rest of the world. You don’t have to believe everything the world believes, but be willing to observe. Don’t be afraid to find something beautiful in another country. And don’t afraid when you notice flaws in your own country. There is beauty and pain everywhere. This helps TCKs to feel more comfortable talking with you. It is an example to them that they can follow…to show them that they don’t have to pick just one cultural identity and ignore the rest of the world.
- Kids learn to be patriotic in school, which is great! But I think there is room in the curriculum for learning about cultural diversity too, and respect for other cultures. Start this education as early as you can! Otherwise, kids start to adopt an “us vs. them” state of mind.
- TCKs need to talk about patriotism and identity with people that they can trust. Maybe there is a type of resource (a book, school curriculum, or travel counselor) that organizations can provide for TCKs. I think this would significantly decrease the stress of culture shock that a TCK feels when entering a new environment.
Alright readers, what are you thinking?
Does anything sound wrong? or can you relate to any of this?
What else can organizations or people do to help the TCK struggle with Patriotism?
Next Week: more reflections from interviews.