Quote from,

Third Culture Kids- The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds
David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken*

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Identity through culture.

When we were in Solomon Islands I had friends who, at the time, seemed overly protective of me. To the point when we'd cross a main road, they'd hold my hand, or when we were in a crowd of people, they'd put their hand on my shoulder. On mission trips or retreat my "sisters" would lay their mats down next to mine and we'd all sleep together.

At first I resented the way they treated me. Then I began to understand the culture. Family looks out for each other. Family never gets left behind. They weren't babying me as I had initially thought. They were in fact, treating me just like one of their own. They were accepting me and welcoming me into their family.

I soon adapted to their ways and before long I was treating others the same way. I knew that they were looking after me, that if a drunk man came strolling down the road they'd be there and we as a family would be safe. They began to teach me their ways of cooking, let me in on traditional medicines and would entertain me with their custom stories. They had made me theirs, and so much of my identity rested in who I was in that tribe, the clan, that people/language group.

Then we moved to America. At first I clung very strongly and stubbornly to my identity as a "Solomon Islander". I wore my traditional necklaces and jewelry all the time. I maintained all the cultural values that I had adopted when we were living overseas. I spoke pijin constantly and refused to accept the fact that we were no longer in Solomons.

That brought its own set of problems =applying Solomons customs and values to American culture and traditions, just didn't work. So I attempted a go at a whole new strategy. I attempted to "Americanise" myself. I tore down the walls of cold bitterness that I had against Americans and began to absorb, without thought or censorship -the "American "way".

But in letting go of Solomons, in letting go of my culture and knowledge of the culture -I was also rejecting so much of what made me as a person. An entire aspect of my identity, simply tossed aside.

At the time, I didn't realise it, but I was wandering trying to find my way around -without any of the boundaries or securities that I had known while we were still overseas. When I pushed Solomons customs out the door, I was also, unknowingly, eliminating my sense of respect, giving honour, responsibility etc... From my life. Why? Because the only way I knew how to carry out those values were through the traditions and customs I had learned while being assimilated and assimilating, Solomons culture.

So what became of me then? I blundered through the first few months of being back -making friends, losing friends. Getting lost, getting found. Right when I thought I had figured out how to navigate through conversations and life as an "American" I'd slip up. Whether it was a communicational error, confusion on a topic relating to pop culture or just not knowing something that was "common knowledge"... I just wasn't fitting in. I was constantly confused as to what to do in situations. How do I honour someone, when the only way I know how to show that respect is through the traditions I learned overseas? Well, a lot of times -I just didn't. Why? Because Solomons wasn't my life anymore. But then again -what did I know of American culture?

I kept going down that muddy path, slipping into depression, getting swallowed by confusion and often times anger. Who was I? I was in America, yet I was still very much an islander...

Not that long ago, I received an email from a friend and towards the end of the email it said, "when I first saw you (at MK) I claimed you..." And it was the words, "I claimed you" that really got to me. "Claimed" me? That only happened in Solomons...

Since that email, I've been digging around, looking back and reflecting on the things I've learned/gone through. I realised what had really happened to me. How, in the process of moving to America, I had 'lost' my identity. Granted, our identity should be in Christ and in Him alone.. But sometimes, even the best of us fail and look to other sources for identity and belonging.

So where am I now? Still confused. Still adapting. I'm in the process of figuring out ways that I can apply Solomons culture into American traditions... Mostly because, it's from my culture, that most of my values have been formed and rooted in. I'm learning American values and how I can portray them appropriately. I'm trying to make, what essentially boils down to my TCK/MK culture, fit into my life here in America. Somehow, I'll get them to mesh. I'm taking the best of all three worlds (Solomons Islands, America and the worlds in between those two) and applying it to life today. But at least now, I know that I'm claimed. Even if it's just by one person. In Solomon Islands, I was "claimed" by an entire tribe of people. Here, I'm still finding my people. But if one person can "claim" me.. Maybe other's will too. What's so important about being claimed? It's the sense of belonging. The knowledge that there are others around you to support you, to help you. Just knowing that -they're there.

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