I Believe in a Third Culture

Author: Dana Nottingham, TCU Student, Fall 2014

I believe in a third culture.

Finding out I was white came as quite a shock. After four and a half years of believing I was Salvadoran, my nationality was revoked. Everyone around me thought it was so funny that I had mistaken my very fair skin as brown, and my very blond hair as black. Kids. They’re so cute. They laughed and I let them, neither one of us realizing quite the impact that moment would make.

When my family moved back to The States, I went ahead and conformed. I unconsciously forgot an entire identity; I let go of my Spanish, forgot El Salvador, and attempted to proceed as usual. I faked it very well—for most of my life I even had myself convinced that I was American. Yet something just wouldn’t click. There were so many aspects of life in the US that I tried desperately to distance myself from; I began to hate the association, wondering why there was so much I didn’t understand and so much I couldn’t get other people to understand. I looked the part, but I couldn’t play it. Just hearing someone say “El Salvador” made me jump, desperately trying to become a part of the conversation. I kept meeting girls from San Salvador who didn’t understand why I considered their country to be mine as well. I didn’t even speak Spanish anymore, so in most eyes I had no credible claim to the Latin American culture.  Even I started feeling like I didn’t, and between losing a nationality and a language, I lost a big part of who I was. It is only recently that I began to come to terms with the fact that I don’t really belong to any culture. And it was in expressing this to someone that I found out there was a third culture, for people who felt just like me.

Being classified as a “third culture kid” means living outside your passport country for a significant portion of your developmental years. Essentially, TCKs are people who don’t have a country because they were never able to firmly establish their roots. When asked, most people can tell you where they are from. I can tell you where I live, but where I’m from has always been tricky. Because, true to the TCK formula, I’m not from anywhere. I belong to two countries, two cultures, two languages. I cannot define myself by either one, and I learn everyday that I don’t have to. I’m developing an entirely new perspective, coming to understand that weaving together both parts of who I am connects me with people on an entirely different level. Suddenly I understand the plight of the foreigner, I get the loneliness of the outcast, I appreciate the importance of origin—and it isn’t merely from an empathetic standpoint. I am on the same journey of self discovery, to reclaim my identity, and it has been incredible to see just how many others are on it too.

 

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