Monday, February 08, 2010
Posted by Hilda
I’d like to talk about something a little personal, if I may, because I’m curious about what the rest of you who have experienced this in the past or are experiencing it now feel about it.
third culture kid, although even that doesn’t really describe what I am. I didn’t go from one culture to another and then form a third culture out of that mix of experiences; I was born in one Iran, raised the first half of my life in France and spent the second half of my childhood in the US in California. I’ve often been described as being like an onion, my core is Iranian, my mid-layers are French, and my outer layers are American, though the skin is Iranian based on my looks, and I've described myself as a cultural mutt when asked "what I was."
I married a Pakistani who was born in Lahore but who, in terms of education, was raised in the United Kingdom, and in terms of vacation time was mostly in Saudi Arabia or sometimes back in Pakistan. He and I have funny arguments about the meaning of various words in American English as opposed to British English. I have two step-children, one who is half Pakistani-one quarter Kuwaiti-one quarter Swedish, and the other who is half Pakistani-half American. My ten month-old daughter, who is ethnically half Iranian-half Pakistani, was born in London, entitling her to a British passport to go with her various other passports and residency permits.
Where am I going with this? Well, I’ve always had an easy and a hard time fitting in. Easy because there were few ways in which to be entrenched, my parents not being big sticklers for tradition, hard because I could always see what the other side of the argument might be, or the way that those “foreign” people might interpret the situation. I think of everywhere as home and nowhere as home if that makes sense. Wherever I am, if I am there for a while and haven’t traveled, I start to feel antsy and homesick for another home. It’s disconcerting sometimes because I can be in a room of people who have very strong opinions about their country or their part of the world and it feels like this brings them a sense of security in something permanent that I have never felt.
My French childhood friends would sometimes refer to me as “l’Iranienne” (the Iranian); to my American schoolmates I was a French “frog” first but became Middle Eastern when the Middle East would come up in the news which then often translated to my representing terrorism somehow; to my French friends I became “l’Américaine” who could understand the way Americans thought and behaved and probably was betraying French culture and tradition by assimilating somehow; on the round went until eventually there were so many arrows pointing from one place to the other on so many different subjects that I stopped trying to defend one culture to another as a function of where I was geographically. If people didn’t want to understand, that was their own problem, not mine, but the feeling of not belonging was only delineated more sharply by the ever-growing impossibility of taking one side and sticking to it.
So the question is, how do I raise my daughter to feel a sense of home that is, pardon the pun, foreign to me. The saying is that “home is where the heart is,” but that’s a bit trite and nebulous, isn’t it? I can certainly agree with the idea that my home is where my family is, but even though family is immutable, one still goes through life in one’s own head and is, in a way, alone. It’s likely that we will be traveling a fair amount as she grows up, partly because that is our wish and partly because our personal and professional lives require travel. Is the answer simply to make sure she has a thick skin?
I know that many of you who read the Daily Tiffin are expatriates in your own right, some having children and raising them in completely foreign cultures from your own, but wonder which of you were brought up in a couple or more different places, as I was, and feel like they have no country but, also, every country.
And, if you have children, are you finding that their experience of several cultures is similar to yours or different, or that they are affected in ways you couldn’t have imagined because their experience was not, in the end, what you thought it would be based on your own understanding of the nomadic life? Why don't you step into my office...
This post was written by Hilda
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