Multiculturalism in California was a lie: how my being a hidden immigrant in America killed my self-worth

Jonathan Livingston, Seagull

When I first discovered the term “Third Culture Kid”, I didn’t immediately say “Oh! Now I know what I am! I’m not crazy!”, my first reaction was “Am I really a TCK?” After wondering and wandering through cultures and continents, the answer is a resounding yes at this point, but it’s not the whole of who I am. Last year, I came across one of the jargon terms used in the TCK literature, “hidden immigrant” which pretty much describes who I am when in America.

A hidden immigrant is someone who in spite of nationality and ethnicity, in his or her mother culture, is an outsider. How do I fit into this definition? I have an American passport and accent, I spent the first ten years of my life in America for the most part, and then for college and a good amount of time afterward, I lived there.

Step back and remember that America is a huge country with many cultures within it. You would think that it means it’s an open society to diversity, especially in mega cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York. My experience in the west coast for the most part has proven not to be the case. And to a lesser extent in the rest of the country, this was the same but not as bad in the west coast, especially California.

Let’s say you get to know some people whose ethnic backgrounds come from all across the globe, many of them having immigrated at a young age and have become or are in the process of becoming American citizens. Everyone is American, and everyone’s background is unique. Sound too good to be true for a TCK who wants to be amongst like-minded people? That’s because it is. Why? Therein lies the answer: they aren’t like-minded people. And their idea of being global-minded is embracing the diversity coming to America, not necessarily expanding into the frontier.

Here’s what separated me from them: I never saw America as a home, I never had the experience of rooting myself anywhere and being part of a community no matter how much I tried (and believe me, I tried very hard). It isn’t about time, it’s about connections you make with people. Problem is, I couldn’t connect because people had expectations and categories for whom they thought I was.

To many, I was simply “weird” and nobody wanted to be around me (while I thought they were pretty weird for their passive-aggressive nature and why they expected me to be able to read their minds). To others, notably Christian fundamentalists, I was told to “be aware and know how to act wherever I am because I’m in America!” while I thought “well then you come over to Manila or Bangkok and be aware of how to act the moment you get off the plane, jerk!” Mean, weird, arrogant, annoying–a lot of those labels have been thrown my way, and it’s painfully difficult to not believe the voice of the bullshit legion. Add to the mix that many think that the way they act is normal worldwide (it’s not), and I even believed it for a while, until I got out of the country into different work environments and was amongst like-minded people, who, unsurprisingly, were travelers and artists too.

They hear me talk, and I blend in: I’m American to them. Then they hear me talking about seeing naked kids knocking on cars begging for money, about monsoon seasons, struggling to answer the dreaded “Where are you from?” while explaining “I’m from California but not really it’s not my home, blah blah”, and suddenly, I’m a liar, I’m weird, I’m arrogant-but I’m never a foreigner. In their eyes, I’m just a guy trying to look cool from living overseas and I’m no different as an American like them. I can see both perspectives, but the real problem is, their impression of me is already heading toward negative territory. This is also just casual conversation too, but often times that impression stays since it’s critical when getting to know people, I’ve discovered. You’re a liar or you’re weird if you can’t even answer a simple question, which has been my experience from San Francisco to Los Angeles to San Diego.

There was one girl whom I knew for a year and pursued at one point, whose interactions with me and attitude pretty much summarizes how everyone else was in America with me. When I tried to tell her about some of my challenges growing up and how I became whom I was, her response was “What do you want me to think of you?” and unsurprisingly, she rejected me, saying it’s better to know her as a friend before we talk about pursuing something more. In that time frame, she was with someone else emotionally, she explained, then later on, she broke it off and said she still stands by the whole “friends before dating” outlook, but admitted that after ending relationships, it’s usually hard to be a friend again. Then she got with a friend of mine (but was never even friends before getting together), and though I was happy for him, I was expected to just know that that inconsistent behavior is how all girls are (at least in America). Then for some reason, while being sarcastic and facetious with him, she accused me of “being mean”, which I found puzzling. Why? Because my behavior was no different from his or any other guy in our age group being sarcastic with each other like many twenty-something Americans in school or grad school we both knew who all acted the same way too. This is where I don’t know if it’s because a) she doesn’t understand the dynamic between guys, b) doesn’t appreciate sarcasm, c) if my understanding of what is an appropriate degree of sarcasm (because he has been worse with me and others), d) if it just boils down to someone’s immaturity (I don’t know if its hers or mine, but I’m pretty sure most people will say it’s mine), or, maybe, just maybe, it’s  e) the culture gap, since a lot of her actions and behavior are pretty foreign to me. She’s a good girl (albeit a bit confusing like most girls are), and I try to be a good guy as far as I see myself, but for some reason, it’s that culture gap that just doesn’t make it easy for me or the people I’m at odds with.

This is why I hate being in America often: I’m a hidden immigrant for having the blue passport and accent, and because of that, I don’t get the extra level of patience that people offer to foreigners. After a misunderstanding, someone explains in a strange accent “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m not from here…” when they unknowingly commit an offense, and unless you’re a xenophobic bigot, you typically think “Oh, he’s a foreigner, let’s tell him how we think and do things around here”, and then he gets off with a warning or slap on the wrist at most.

So yes, America and its multicultural cities are diverse, but it worked against me. I didn’t buy into many of the values of America, didn’t see it as a home, saw many faults with their diversity that wasn’t receptive to outside ideas, was excluded to the point that being a pariah was the only position in society that I thought I fit in…The usual “why me” schpiel. So I get ostracized, and it’s not because I want attention, and it’s definitely not that I think I’m better than anyone else and deserve special treatment– it’s that I have a different outlook on life because of my experiences overseas that causes me to be who I am, and I interpret cultures from a different perspective rather than having one “home” culture as a standard to hold others against.

I feel like a time traveler across cultures. Culture is carried in time; for example, to hear how old Scottish ballads sounded like in the 18th century, listen to American country music. I’m serious, you can hear the influence and evolution of traditional Scottish ballads from the 18th century into what we have today, and when my music professor showed me, I was shocked to dissect and find those elements. So a part of my culture is stuck in 1991 America when I was in different schools and homes but the same country, my Filipino culture is mainly 1997-2002, my Hong Kong culture is a mix of the handover and the post-handover from that same period, and during those formative years, trying to catch up in any of those places just doesn’t work since I wasn’t in the same time stream or rhythm that those cultures flow in. I wasn’t even around for 11 September 2001, I was in Manila sleeping, and having a different psyche from everyone else automatically made me a target because it was still fresh on their minds when I arrived in the U.S. less than a year after.

I diverge a bit to talk about my experience as a Filipino in the Philippines. What was their label for me? The Filipino who was ashamed of his culture because he didn’t speak Tagalog, and was just trying to be American. Yes, because of my American passport and accent, all misunderstandings were relegated to simply being a stupid American to them. In my first year there, I would say that this was true, but the moment I began moving between the cultures, the more I realized I was neither Filipino nor American, and just didn’t know what I was, made worse by not having a home or community to call my own.

When I enter Bangkok or Hong Kong, however, I find myself home and relating a lot better to the people I am surrounded with. And now that I have moved to Jakarta, I’m even more at home, and I’ve only ever been in Indonesia for less than two weeks, and oh, by the way: this is my first time here.

So why do I feel at home as a foreigner in a foreign land? I’m not Indonesian, I am ethnically Chinese-Filipino, I am an American citizen. Well, because my place is just that: I’m a foreigner here, people look at me and may see me as another Indonesian until they hear me talk, then when they hear I’m not even Indonesian American, that I’m Filipino, the whole “Oh! An outsider! And he is learning our language too!” revelation comes and everyone knows who is who and what is what instead of making assumptions.

Being a true foreigner again and having everyone know I am one sets the foundation for people already expecting to have some differences in outlooks and values. No longer am I seen as a “failed Filipino” for not speaking Tagalog, a loser in America for trying to be different, or whatever it is or was: I’m just a friendly foreigner. And it isn’t even about where I’m from, but the simple fact that I’m not from here.

Being a true foreigner for me is what makes me free because I’m no longer a hidden immigrant facing daily prejudices from people who just don’t get the Third Culture Kid experience. I don’t have to explain this to every American again how I’m American but not really. All I say is saya tidak orang Indonesia, saya orang Philippine, saya orang America, and I’m free. If they ask me how I’m American without being white, then I just say I’m Filipino, because both are are foreign to them.

I don’t hate Americans, even if this seems like it. I just don’t connect with many of them, that’s the truth. Nor do I connect with people from any nationality generally unless they are like-minded, well-traveled people. And as I write about being well-traveled, I know there’s a distinct type of traveler whom I consider to be well-traveled, and it’s not someone who lives in many countries but only hangs out with other Americans. It’s a person who mingles with locals and whose worldliness comes from having an insight that is not restricted to one culture.

I have a friend whom I met a couple months ago whom I spent my last weeks in San Diego with. He is an American, and well-traveled: he speaks English, Spanish, French, and German, and when traveling through countries where he doesn’t speak the local language, he learns how to say “Hello”, “Thank you”, “I’m sorry,” Please”, and “Goodbye” and everything else he picks up along the way. He has friends in all the countries that speak those languages, and he has expat friends living in those countries too.

Compare him to a girl whom I met recently at a bar who traveled throughout Europe and Asia, but never bothered to learn the languages no matter how long she was there, and stuck to her English and Spanish, but even in Spanish-speaking countries, spoke English whenever she was with an English native or someone who spoke it well enough. And of course, was only amongst Americans. Her whole “Hey you’re American too! We should totally hang out!” was probably the worst pick-up line I’ve ever heard. It’s about as bad as a Canadian girl I met who was telling me how great Canada is and how everyone hates America while wondering why I’ve stopped smiling or paying attention to her.

This is how I am a global nomad: I am a foreigner and I try to understand and respect the cultures I am in, even if I am not one of them. I am an American, and I am also not one: America is not my home, I do not share their patriotism and nationalism, but I will be offended when someone discriminates me for being an American for their distaste in American foreign policy. I am a Filipino by blood (mostly), but I am not any less of one because I do not speak the language or consider it “my” country or home.

How I simplify all this is that I am Johnny C. I am a traveler. I am an artist. I am an altruist, an idealist, and I am me. Nationality, hometown, and ethnicity are all arbitrary to me because the associations (stereotypes even) people have with my passport country, birthplace, or race don’t fit with me in any way at all. I’m just a guy living his life–no matter how strange it has been. It’s my life, after all, and everyone else has their own too.

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20 responses to “Multiculturalism in California was a lie: how my being a hidden immigrant in America killed my self-worth

  1. It is difficult when society automatically forces its ideals on others. Sadly it happens all round the world.
    I think a good way of looking at this struggle is this.

    The Nazi and Communists forced their darwinian evolutionary ideals on those they had power over. Woe betide you if you did not fit the evolutionary ideals they had. Say if you were black, jewish, disabled, etc, and did not fit the mold that they made for society, you were soon disposed of in some way. Yet you do not see any of those who are categorised as an outcast, volunteering for the death chamber. They do not say ” you are right, I am inferior and for the sake of the human race let me kill myself!”. Rather, they fight for their freedom.
    In the same way, we rebel against others forcing their ideals on us!.

  2. Thank you for sharing this. Your situation is very complex, and basically describes what is wrong with how people sometimes perceive cultural diversity. You have to be one or the other, either you are a foreigner or you are American. But why can’t there be shades of grey in between? People identify with so many things (their family, their workplace, their hobby, for instance), why can’t we identify with two or ore cultures? Why can’t we have more homes than just one? Why can’t we be pick the best of all cultures we have encountered and make those traits our own?

  3. Whoa whoa! As a Polish-American TCK with an evolutionary biology professor as father, I would never say Hitler or Stalin used “Darwinian ideals”! Please be more careful and specific with your words! Nobody suffered as much as the people who lived in Eastern Europe, that’s true. That is why “we” get emotional when other people fashion imprecise, general statements like this when they think they know what they’re talking about. Do read http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/nov/11/worst-madness/?pagination=false or even the book reviewed here itself, please. Biologists know that social Darwinism is a perversion of Darwin’s ideas, which stress the importance of diversity – b/c you never know when your “bad genes” may be able to help you or your offspring. If the outside situation changes, they will suddenly become “good genes” – it is not for us to judge in the present moment. That said, conformity and xenophobia is what had enabled primitive societies to survive. I don’t like either, but everything has a reason for its existence and if we talk about the general process, these have to exist in some form to counterbalance diversity on the other end in the tug-of-war that is life. Genetic evolution is a slow process and changes in human behavior are slow over generations. Hitler ended and Stalin ended, as we say here, but the people who live here still deal with the consequences of what was done to society, even if they are not always aware of it. Being a TCK gives one a unique perspective. If we want to strive for a more accepting world, a world with less xenophobia, the first step is to talk and try to understand each other. Therefore, please note: people whose ancestors lived through Hitler and Stalin may be offended or hurt whenever someone else makes a relatively trivial comparison to Hitler or Stalin, so please refrain from doing it or educate yourself better and do it with greater care.

  4. As for the main piece, I think every young adult TCK has some or very similar thoughts and experiences. For me, a university town in Sweden was the place where I did not have to explain that I am both Polish and American and really neither. I was an exchange student and at that time and place I felt at home being foreign. University towns in general are probably the best places to look for “like-minded” people and overall Sweden’s immigration policy better acknowledges the need for integration (for immigrants to contribute to society by retaining some of their cultural features) than the assimilation-focused policy in the United States. I think it is normal and natural that immigrant children will want to assimilate to be like their peers, but it is good to leave them the option to study their parents’ language(s) at school, and Sweden does that (at least in the larger urban centers, from what I know and have seen). It shows them that their parents’ language(s) and culture(s) are valued by the receiving society, which is good for their own sense of self-worth. They feel accepted by society and will want to contribute to it, not leave to look for fulfillment elsewhere.

    I myself have not lived in California for the past 9 years. I’m glad someone else notices that *diverse* California often does not live up to its reputation (perhaps for the reasons above). Integration and assimilation policies reflect societal values, which do not simply change at the drop of a hat, even with the passage of laws. There is diversity in California, and there are initiatives in schools to aid learning and appreciation from it, but somehow their impact is not great when faced with the mainstream drive to assimilate in order to succeed socially and professionally. Had you tried to get to know immigrants or exchange students while you were there, not just the “native Californians”? …I know, everyone would like to feel at home and not have to look for friends among “strangers”…

    I’m not sure I understand the part with the male friend and the girl (maybe b/c I’m not a guy, but the situation was not spelled out enough for me – whether we are male or female also makes us see the world differently, because we quite naturally have different life experiences) but it is important for young adult TCKs to remember that gender roles themselves (what is normal and expected of each gender during an interaction with the other, even in terms of very subtle behaviors) differs from society to society, which is what makes dating difficult. Maybe this is obvious, but extremely frustrating for someone (TCK) looking for a partner. I lived in California as a teenage TCK girl, it was not an easy experience, but I can only speculate that it could have been easier elsewhere. Since then, I have heard on occasion from certain Americans, as well as non-Americans, that “Americans are repressed.” “We” have inherited a certain mixture of “Puritan ideals” and what can be termed as the reaction to it (described by Isabelle de Courtivron – whose mother is *French*, for goodness sake! – in the book ‘Lives in Translation,’ as “unabashed flirtation between 10-year-olds”). This virgin-whore view of women, which is, I think, prevalent in American culture and society, in comparison to European culture and society, at least, “limits women’s sexual expression, offering two mutually exclusive ways to construct a sexual identity” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madonna%E2%80%93whore_complex#cite_note-3) in a way that is hurtful to women and, indirectly, to men. When I was an 11-year-old Polish girl, my two or three closest friends were Polish boys. In California, boys of similar age, and then older, thought I was weird and were afraid of me. I was not able to be friends with them and was forced into seeing them “the American way” – as unattainable and distant objects of desire. This is sad, very sad, and it relates to your problem with the girl, I think. Both genders can be inconsistent, *maybe* we women can be a little more, b/c we experience more hormonal changes in the course of the month, but the worst of it is that being forced to see ourselves as either virgins or whores in relation to men (and nothing in-between or unrelated to this “spectrum”) makes us doubt ourselves and the feelings we experience towards men, which men no doubt will also find frustrating. As a side note, it’s ok to be “just friends.” Maybe it’s not applicable in this situation and is not always possible in any culture, if there are strong sexual feelings on either side, but generally friendship based on non-sexual sharing and respect with members of the opposite sex can also teach us a lot (that we can use later in sexual relationships too), give us insight about members of the opposite sex, and make us feel more at ease with them. That is my two cents.

  5. Oh, one more thing. Confronted with an “internal immigrant” people experience cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is what happens when what you experience at the moment does not match your expectations, i.e. what you have learned up to that point. TCKs know that feeling. If it’s something the TCK’s interlocutor knows how to identify within him or herself and feels comfortable with (i.e. is open-minded), then a good relation with the TCK is possible. If the interlocutor is simple-minded (i.e. close-minded, does not see other possibilities) good interaction will not be possible, b/c he or she will project his or her discomfort, which is the result of his or her own cognitive dissonance, on the TCK (“I thought you were like me, but you are not”). “So you thought, but you thought wrong. If that stands in the way of our being friends, so be it, it’s a pity. I look for friends from whom I can learn new things.” I know it’s tough when the majority is like that, they do not understand you, but will profess that they do, which makes you feel like something’s wrong with you.

  6. Joanna, you pretty much got it on point; what I was getting at with her is that her behavior made no sense to me and I beat myself up over it until I realize that I really just come from some confusing cultural background that makes it hard to know what people mean when sending dating signals or not. It’s not just “Treat Americans like this and then treat Filipinas, Chinese, or Australian girls like that if you want to date them; this is what they mean, and that is what the other ones mean”. So I’m either a completely oblivious idiot to them or they think I’m asexual–in truth, I’m just not sure what people mean in any culture by their signals or body language. Whomever said love was universal obviously didn’t include dating there.

    Actually, I lived in two university towns in California–and about four or five in America as a whole. The university kids were actually more closed-off, surprisngly, since their goal was to be hedonists away from the watchful eye of their parents while still getting money from them. I heard a Vietnamese American girl call my Tagalog “an ugly language” and a Filipina say the Philippines wasn’t Asia because “it’s not connected to the mainland and is nothing like Chinese culture”. These are the “intellectuals” I came across, who also assumed because I’m Filipino, I must be poor and act black, and that I’m also not a “real” Filipino for being “whitewashed” since I didn’t fit into their definition of what Filipino was.

    Even amongst TCKs, I do get a sense of alienation anyway–most of the ones I come across are rich kids, and being one of the few (perhaps many?) who lived a rough life and was homeless several times on the streets, there’s a gap between my experience and outlook compared to theirs.

  7. autumnsoliloquy

    A link from tumblr brought me here. I’m a tck too, and having felt like an outsider for a long long time, I feel like I need to find a place to settle down and feel at home. Somehow multicultural cities seem to be the most logical places to consider first, but reading this only confirms to me that multiculturalism isn’t exactly as successful as it is often hailed to be.
    I’m surprised you prefer being treated like a complete foreigner to a hidden immigrant. I’ve lived in 3 different Asian countries for varying timespans, and personally the alienation I felt there is nothing compared to that I feel being a student in Germany currently. When you’re a blatant foreigner, no amount of language fluency or cultural knowledge can cover up the fact that you look different. Accordingly the treatment you get will always be as an outsider. As a hidden immigrant, locals will at least give you a chance to “prove” youre one of them, and if you’re in the mood you can actually fake it. There’s a choice as a hidden immigrant.
    This is a hasty generalisation but it seems that most tcks have problems with dating. This resonates with me: “Here’s what separated me from them: I never saw America as a home, I never had the experience of rooting myself anywhere and being part of a community no matter how much I tried (and believe me, I tried very hard). It isn’t about time, it’s about connections you make with people. Problem is, I couldn’t connect because people had expectations and categories for whom they thought I was.” I think the tck experiences changes ones mindset in that connections are often limited by the fact that most people have a monoethnic or worse ethnocentric mentality. Personally as a tck I can’t accept that. And that carries on to dating as ineptitude with making connections. Some tcks deal with it differently; you said you became a pariah. I just became an introvert.
    I’m a Filipino too so I’d just like to comment on those parts. I lived in the Philippines for the first nine years, and I spoke the language with my parents so I was relatively fluent. Nevertheless it was a very childish level and I often find myself at loss for words when I’m back in the philippines or relapsing into English. People would interpret that as either being “sosyal” or “malansang isda”. Not sure how familiar you are with the culture, but English and foreignness are always associated with the rich and elite. Just look at how many biracial celebrities are popular there. So if you are pinoy and can’t speak the language well, it’s equates to arrogance or uppityness. It makes me uncomfortable being perceived that way, when they don’t understand that my elementary school Tagalog is a product of my upbringing. But I guess when you understand why people think that way, then it’s easier to accept being misunderstood.
    I think tcks will never feel patriotism or nationalism again, because those things are inherently connected to sense of belonging, which tcks lack. It’s ok though. In Orwell’s “1984” they spoke of an invisible brotherhood. I think most tcks are dreaming of the same utopia of true multiculturalism, and we are an invisible country bound by no physical borders or space.

  8. The thing about living in a multicultural society is that you can try to pass off as a local instead of a hidden immigrant, but I think a metaphor best describes it. You can have the clothes, you can change your face, your accent, you can bleach your skin–but your children will still have the same nose that you tried to hide. This was about plastic surgery and the children men and women would have in Korea, which was ominously predicted by Phillip K. Dick in The Man in the High Castle, but he referenced Jews instead in the alternate history. Similarly, I read about a Moroccan-French man who was born in working class and earned a fortune, but his children were embarrassed by him because he would still have his habits wherever he went since he had already been set in his ways for forty years.

    Relating this to my experience, it is the subtle things I do that I am not aware of that only further highlight my hidden immigration. Waving to a waiter to get his attention from the Philippines; pointing with my palm up and hands open from being in Thailand; beckoning people with palm down using a gesture in the west is that more akin to shooing someone away; bowing as I shake someone’s hands when meeting them–I have to force myself not to do those things, but when I don’t notice, I am doing them subconsciously–this is why being a hidden immigrant never let me fit in, because instead of being recognized and excused for being a foreigner, I am ostracized and dismissed as rude, arrogant, or stupid and immature.

    So unless you’re 100% completely aware of your actions (which usually only happens in my experience when I’m acting in front of a camera playing a specific role), these little subtle behaviors and attitudes come out no matter how much you try to control yourself.

    As much as I loved the times I lived in the U.S. and Philippines, I can’t truly be at home in either place because of my hidden immigrant status there. I will never pass off as a local or fit in because of the energy people pick up on in Manila even when fluent in Tagalog; and I will never be loved in America because people dismiss me as someone who tries too hard to please/impress/fit in/get attention/whatever.

    It makes me sad in some ways, but for the most part, I don’t want to take root anywhere, even as a foreigner in a nice place to live. I have to keep traveling every few months because home doesn’t exist for me ever since I lost my dad (read the entry on that from May of 2011), and in trying to create roots, the more I realize I’m going against my nature, my Dharma, God’s Providence, or whatever the Universe has designed me to do. One reason I refuse to root myself somewhere is because so far, every time I have, I am seen as a weed ruining their garden, and I am cut out. If I even have a chance to root myself, I am the Sakura blossom that doesn’t belong amongst the Great Redwoods, and am thus uprooted because I am not part of it. You may say “But the best bouquets are a good mix of different flowers!” and my response is “Those flowers have all been uprooted and put together, and no matter how beautiful it looks, it’s too late: they only last a few days afterward.” People only see it after the fact and it’s too late.

    This is reason number one why I refuse to find a place to root myself in: people appreciate me more by being like the wind. My time is not taken for granted as they are aware that I will not be around and easily available forever. So carpe diem, memento mori: seize the day because you remember you will die. Amor fati: love of fate, this is who I am and what I must be, for I cannot root myself anywhere, and ten years of trying to do so has proven to be my undoing every time.

  9. Hi Joanna, the issue i refer to in regards Darwinism is the Concept of Eugenics. It was a popular concept at the turn of the 20th century, considered not just by those I mentioned but a large majority of Westernised societies in the last century in many forms. Sadly it has the effect of dehumanising people and it is this concept which I am relating to. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugenics
    Thankfully this concept has very much fallen into disfavour (mainly because the issue of Hitler’s support of it). But more recently there has been a resurgence of interest in Eugenics according to Wiki.
    It is not my intention to judge whether Eugenics or Darwinisim is right or wrong but rather to point out that nobody who is marginalised by society likes society forcing their ideals on them. Mentally a society takes on ideas and concepts as to how its people should be have /act and their worth to society. Rejection by society can vary from mild to extreme.

    For TCKs, we feel very much the issue of identity and acceptance. What happens when society rejects us? How do we fit in to a society? Do we choose to be totally different or do we do our best to blend in? All the more difficult if we are seen as having no worth or nothing to contribute. Perhaps in the same way many TCKs unwittingly give signals that causes a negative reaction from those around them. The battle is then as follows I think.

    1 Society Changes so it readily accept TCKs.
    2 TCKs change so society accepts them.
    3 A comprimise where some acceptance is given and some change of TCK happens.

    I think the third is most likely but often their remains a state of slight uneasiness and at times lack of full acceptance. Yet as Johnny C has pointed out even a multicultural society is a society that TCKs will struggle with identity in. It has its rules and body language as to what is acceptable.

    Eugenics is an issue that often correlates with Ethics. What is acceptable ethically in one society is not in another. Where it is acceptable to abort a baby with birth defect may be acceptable by one section of society and unacceptable by another.
    I came across such an ethical issue with a multicultural marriage here in the UK. The husband (African by birth) wanted his son circumcised according to his cultural heritage and the wife ( British by birth) did not. I know what my thoughts are but for the African man, his son would not be accepted by his society without it. Multicultural issues like this brought an end to the marriage as neither side would compromise and both believed themselves to be right.
    Perhaps such cultural issues can be difficult for TCKs in relationships too.

    • On a similar note about multiculturalism, a bigoted American teaching English in Japan said this about TCKs when I introduced the concept to him said “I think everyone should act the same way people do in whatever country they are in, multiculturalism is stupid.” So much for understanding that it’s not just conscious behavior and stubbornness.

  10. Ok, Paul, but you wrote “darwinian evolutionary ideals,” not “eugenics,” in the first post, so I had to speak up, b/c there is a big difference. Then you correct yourself, which is important to do in such cases. Eugenics was motivated by hate and xenophobia (close-mindedness at its worst) and was misusing Darwinism to do so. Darwinian and evolutionary thought is a part of scientific canon. It’s like confusing apples and oranges, with potentially dangerous results. Science is motivated by the search for knowledge and truth, and is open to new ideas (open-mindedness), as long as they stand up to rigorous scientific scrutiny. It’s important to be specific in separating “eugenics” from “evolutionary theory” – not being specific here is dangerous. There is a lot of misinformed, misguided people who – if I understand correctly – think that “science is evil” (whatever that means). Whoever controls their minds has convinced them that it is so. Posts such as your first post can misinform them further, reinforcing their misguided convictions. The sad end result is that these people are bigoted and ignorant (close-minded), but in democratic society they have the right to make decisions that affect all of us.

  11. I noticed you wrote “It is not my intention to judge whether Eugenics or Darwinism is right or wrong”… If you look “Darwinism” up in Wikipedia, you’ll see that it has had various meanings over the years, so that might not help clear up the confusion between the two. The point I’m trying to make is that “natural selection” as *described* by science, is natural. Organisms not well-suited to present conditions will die without producing offspring and their features and genetic information will be lost. But it is a long process that happens over time and the lifetime of the individual human being is just a tiny fraction of that. From that vantage point we can only “observe” the process, i.e. study it though science. Our own lives are too short – we can study other organisms that have shorter life-spans and reproduce faster than humans do (mice or fruit flies, for example), to witness the lives of many generations of them and try to theoretically apply the specific observations to humans and all of life.

    Now, most important, each one of us is part of nature. Hitler and Stalin were too. But what they did was not natural selection. They tried to play god in an episode of history that humans should and I hope will remember for generations. Even they were only human and nature has dealt with them too. They are dead now and the societies they tried to destroy are blossoming on rocks, so to say.

    • Hi Joanna, Okay, it seems I have hit a nerve. But let me clarify something. There are a number of worldviews on the issue of Origins including Darwinism and Creationism. Where there is a struggle to link Darwin concepts of origins, other worldviews abound such as an offworld origin of life through evolution, or the need to exclude God being the creator and designer: then concepts such as an offworld design of life by another race come to the fore. The problem is this. Science is based on what can be observed, tested and proved today through experimentation. This is then put forward as a theory until someone can prove otherwise. The difficulty with the past is that it cannot be proved scientifically. The nearest proof there can be is an eyewitness account. So all world views will try and use science to ” proove” their views but in reality no real scientific proof of the past is possible. Only assumptions can be made.
      The mainstream scientific society today bases its experimentation and its conclusions on the theory of Evolution. The difficulty with this is that there is a danger of making presumptions about scientific testing before the true science starts. An example would be dating rock.
      Different methods are used to date rock but none of the dating methods exactly match each other. So, any dating method that does not give an expected result is rejected, or testing is done until an expected result is found. THe same can be said for any worldview.
      You mention Natural selection. Natural selection is what it is. It is not a type of evolution but a selection process. If i had a deck of cards and asked you to select a card, I can guarantee it will be a card you are familiar with as being from a deck of cards. The pack does not evolve and give me a 15 of Diamonds or a 3 of Squares. Natural selection is selection of existing data.
      So what I am saying is that Eugenics did stem from Darwinist thinking, one that is that is drawn out from a logical process, but as we know has dire consequences. Not that I am saying it was right or that because of that Darwinism is evil. Darwinism is a naturalistic worldview that attempts to explain the world as it is without the need for a Supernatural creator. I myself at one time held to the theory of Evolution but no longer do as you can probably tell. But whatever the worldview, it will involve the miraculous. It would take a miracle for life to evolve from non life, it would take a miracle for matter, and all the laws that govern it to appear out of nothing. For all things that have a beginning, the beginning involves a miracle of some kind. By that I mean events that go against the laws of physics as we know them today.as we have no idea if those laws were different in the past. We cannot scientifically prove they were different as we can only experiment on what we can repeat today.
      For nature to bring about the universe as we know it or for God to do it, requires a miracle.

      So therefore I would say the following. With the issues of origins comes the issue of accountability. Who is to say what is right or wrong? You say that Eugenics was wrong but humanistically speaking and according to evolutionary thinking, the fittest survive and cleaning out the weak and inferior would bolster the evolution of man. After all life is just a process. If we are accountable to God then he would say that life is to be treasured and we are accountable to Him on how we live it and whether someone lives or dies and he will judge what is right or wrong. From programmes of breeding dogs ect we know that it is however dangerous to wittle down the gene pool through extermination as there are inherent health issues that come about by doing so.. I would say whether be believe in God or not, we need to believe in the importance and sanctity of human life, but also bear in mind that many do not hold our worldview.

  12. Yeah, I’m afraid we won’t convince each other, so it is not a good idea to continue conversation on this topic. “That’s why it’s called faith” is the argument to end all arguments given on one side, countered by “the concept explaining gravity is also a theory” (b/c the cause of gravity has not been defined, nor do we know for sure that gravity will ‘work’ in all cases), but people do not question the existence of gravity, b/c the evidence is easily accessible. I do not “feel God,” as some people don’t. When they want the world to make sense, certain people are inclined towards religion, others towards scientific thinking. Science and religion have separate “languages” (systems of meaning) so one person will be talking about apples and the other about oranges. That is part of our human condition.

    And while I do not feel “supernatural energy,” there is unquestionable synergy in interactions between people, even online. The Holocaust and WWII was an episode of history perhaps more easily explained by science than religion, but horrifying none the less. So much so that those who lived through it were left with the question “are people human, if they can do such things to each other?” In their lifetime, these people witnessed and were all touched by unspeakable human cruelty… matched by boundless human sacrifice.

    • It seems that whatever the world view, there are those who will use their ’cause’ to justify their actions. Whether it be a jihad, a crusade or eugenics, people find a way doing evil and mentally justifying what they did as right. I agree that some things are better understood by science but we must bear in mind that some things like the holocaust are in the past and all that science can do now is test and prove what is in the present. From the evidence of the holocaust we see today we can decide whether what is said and recorded actually happened. We now have to rely on eyewitness reports, records and documentation to know that it actually happened. Even now there are people who deny it ever happened. Science can only test what is repeatable by experimentation today. For those of us who were not in the holocaust or witness to it, we have to trust the word of others.

      On the original topic:
      The problem is that many cultures are predisposed to judging other cultures and people and perhaps if they see a TCK of not fitting into any of the categories they have mentally produced, they think you as even stranger than usual. Do they treat you as equal or put you down as inferior? You do not fit into their mental understanding of the world.

  13. Hi Johnny! I’ve had quite a few similar experiences as you have (as I’m sure you’ve heard from other TCKs once you found out the term and delved into it). I, too, was introduced to the term about my junior year in college but didn’t give it much thought. It wasn’t until I started really struggling with fitting into American society that I started searching for answers. I had such a difficult time understanding why Americans were not more multicultural especially when growing up all you hear in your social studies and histories classes are that the United States is a melting pot or a salad bowl. My particular experiences entailed friends coming in and out of my life every couple of years, so I was used to jumping into relationships with people and opening up…you had to in order to create connections. But, from my personal experiences, people in the States have their own set way of life and have their set friends. Unless you live in a highly transient area, you’re not going to find many people who understand or know how to accept and welcome “newbies” into their community.

    One of my biggest issues is that I am an American citizen and I have no other nationality. I look American, sound American, etc. But I left the States when I was six and didn’t return (to live, we vacationed here) until I was 18 and came for college. My thought is that if people know you’re international or you look international, they’re more accepting of your quirks and lack of knowledge for the popular culture. It also didn’t help me that my parents didn’t want me to learn another language when we lived abroad because they wanted my American roots instilled…but what they STILL have yet to realize is that they couldn’t shelter me from the cultural influences that I was presented with from my homes abroad. Do you find that your parents have a difficult time understanding your “TCK issues”? I really enjoy your blog and look forward to being a frequent reader.

    • My parents were public enemy number one. They assumed that I would magically fit in with my roots in the Philippines and the U.S. because of birthplace, and they assume because of Spanish influence in Manila due to colonialism, I can get along in Spain with the people there. Complaints about not fitting in or being happy anywhere? They called it immaturity and being closed-minded. Nobody to talk to in Manila or America, and no hope with mom or dad, so I pretty much was alone. Sister? Give me a break. The girl “went native” and became as American as possible down to the materialism and focuses on connections through shopping, cars, pop culture, television, fashion, and useless banter. Unfortunately, banter, which I will write about soon, are not things I’m fond of even if they are tools for human warmth–drawing connections through seemingly mundane interests, even if they aren’t deep or meaningful.

      • It’s funny you say that about your sister. Mine did the exact same thing. Is your sis older or younger? Mine is older….but she latched on to everything and anything American. She especially latched on to whatever her significant other at the time was into, whether it was a fascination with sports or whatever. I enjoy connecting with others, but I cannot stand surface banter either. I typically “freak” people out because of how deep I want to be in my connections. Glad to know there is someone else that shares a similar view on things 🙂

  14. Younger actually. She actually did something quite funny, as did many people in our school and rival school. From 2002-2005, a number of graduates went to Los Angeles and roomed with one another or close to each other. They had no friends save for themselves for several years, and they didn’t seem to care. Eventually, she went native and so did they, because they picked up the ability to have banter with folks (even if it’s about make-up and television or drinking). So they integrated into becoming Americans, the whole lot of 20 or more from two schools in Manila who hung out there too.

    I, on the other hand, was forced to deal with the consequences of never compromising myself and trying to fit in wherever, since where I was in San Francisco, I met no TCKs. I had no support from her because our relationship can be summarized as open malice and extreme prejudice. Nothing will change it, and her emotional bullying will never match my emotional distance, because ironically, the biggest enemies for me were my blood relations and friends, TCK and non-TCK alike due to the distance of not being a rich kid or not compromising and being with the elites, staying in the circle of TCKs, or going native. So I’m a loner and I guess I’ll remain that way, but I take that being a lot more comfortable with myself rather than spite towards the world now.

  15. I think there isn’t a parent who – once the children are grown up – doesn’t think that he or she could have done something differently or better when the children were younger… but parents usually just do their best with the resources and life experiences available to them at a given point… That it’s far from enough in some cases is another story. For the parents of TCKs, I think it’s much more difficult to acknowledge that their (adult) children’s troubles are in some way the result of their own choices, than that they have given their children a unique life experience… but this is the whole truth to be acknowledged. Ultimately, neither parents nor children can imagine what their life would have been like without the international moves, although maybe on two different levels… (“Imagine that you can’t speak English,” my father once said. Not possible. Except for one or two summer vacations, all of my interactions with people my own age when I was a teen were in English, and “everybody knows” 😉 how much happens when you’re a teen).

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