Reflecting on all this talk about Third Culture Kids, I came to the realization that grew up in three cultures, two at home and a third on the street. An heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and to the non-existent Kingdom of Poland, I was raised in the ambience of Western Reserve USA, which offered a less than warm welcome. My DNA claims not only largely Central and Western Europe but an Arab-Jewish mini-component and a minuscule touch of Neanderthal. So, jeans were not in my genes but worn in my immigrant grandparents' adopted land. If genes could talk–and it seems like scientific research may soon make them open their mouths–I may uncover more of my identity story. But, in the meantime, I am piecing it together, discovering bits of myself from a cultural perspective by exploring the memory messages that pop up to frame my experiences day-to-day, using another of the exercises found in our Cultural Detective methodology.
Yesterday I attempted to explore my gender formation as male, today the focus is on what I learned and became under the multicultural home ambience of three flags. As a kid, I was surrounded daily by strange tongues, which hid the discussions of my elders, who refused to let me in on their secrets–"Let the kids be American; don't teach them the Old Country stuff." This meant not learning any of the seven languages my grandfather was fluent in, but when it came to the non-verbals, their attitudes, and the kitchen, my forebears couldn't hide their cultural stories. So, I ate it up and put on its weight. No one had yet announced that non-verbals were 90% of the spoken message. Though it would have been wonderful to have learned those languages in the nest and the neighborhoods, at least the linguistic music stuck, so when I started to actually study, for example Russian, pronunciation wasn't a big challenge.
In this second identity snapshot, I've put my finger on another 5 messages, familial songs about life that I echo and value, that ring out in me. They can sometimes conflict and sometimes be discordant red flags to people who have other tunes being replayed in their memory recorder. I've found that exploring my own diversity not only tells me more of who I am, but also tells me why I am at home in certain strange places and feel like an alien in others, walk easily in some streets and stumble on other paths. In any case, sharing the messages as I recite them and live them and inviting others to do so is a great way to get acquainted and create fusion cuisine in the parlor as well as at the stove.
Image: Familiar familial tunes