TCKs in Disguise

Authors: Jessica Suotmaa


A third culture kid (TCK) has become an increasingly common term now that inter-racial/cultural unions have become the mainstream, rather than the anomaly.
After many years, I noticed that just as I struggled to answer the question, "Where are you from?" often by telling little white lies or brushing the question away with the popular Facebook status: "It's complicated", I've found my Chengdu-born husband sometimes struggles as well. He starts by telling them he's from Chengdu, but then, perhaps in an effort to gain sympathy, reminds that his father is northern, from Hebei, or his mother is from a minority ethnic group in Chongqing. While he identifies himself as a Chengduer, he recounts his childhood experience as being different from his neighbors'. For one, they never ate spicy food at home, and as a result, when I first met him he couldn't eat any spices, disgracing the reputation of his hometown. Instead, they had bread-like foods for breakfast and noodles for lunch. His Chengdu-dialect is also lacking, to the point where even I can understand him, and is likely resultant of his father's odd, Mandarin-peppered Sichuanese. He doesn't look like his Chengdu-peers, and as he's lived abroad both as a teenager and as a young adult, he often finds himself defending his hometown, his TCK identity.
My grandmother was even more mixed, rooted deeply in Taiwan, China with her aboriginal and Hakka blood, but in love with the Japanese culture she was conditioned with as a child. She spoke Japanese, watched Japanese dramas, practiced Japanese traditional dance (even performing in Japan), and purchased many Japanese products.
Given all the cultural divides in my family, it's not too difficult to imagine how people in the world can be poles apart. Just as in the United States, one probes for another's" home state", in China, people also ask to find one's "hometown". Yet, how much influence does a hometown have on a child's culture compared to the cultures and traditions of their parents? That's what we, and many expats, wonder as we raise our children in China. On a larger scale, I've also wondered whether the majority culture, "Chinese culture", like American culture, is just a fade put on by nationalism, while the rest of Chinese are TCKs in disguise. Hence, foreigners find it challenging to understand Chinese culture and people - how could they not? I'm half-Chinese, who's been married to a Chinese husband for eight years, and who's lived in China for four years, and I still don't understand" Chinese culture".
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