November 23, 2016

Decoding The Confusing Cultural Identity Crisis

Ask the kids where they are from and they would say “Thailand”. By virtue of that, they (me included) would immediately be labelled as being Thais.

Then comes the question of where the kids were born and the answer would obviously be Thailand again.

Another stamp to certify that we are definitely Thais with the perceived ability to speak mostly Thai because…

...we come from Thailand,

…the kids were both born in Thailand and…

…their mom looks visibly Thai.

When all the niceties have been satisfactorily answered, we usually are given “the once-over”.

Source: Google Image

So we must be Thai. We have to be! Case closed. 

That’s pretty much indicative of the look I often get anywhere I am in the world that would make me feel like I’m being appraised. A look I usually would abandon dismissively with a smile. (That said, I would love to know what goes on in their heads as they throw me that classic once-over, appraised look from head to toe especially when Silver Bullet is with me)

Except that “we must be Thai, we just have to be” aren’t true and the case is not close. I then realise that this identity labelling thing  bugs me. I cringe each time Spud and Squirt nod to people’s acknowledgement that since they come from Thailand, they have a Thai mother and that make them half-Thai with a Dutch father.

As this observation of identity crisis becomes more prominent with each passing day at every encounter possible especially in the earlier months of our move, so has the growth of my discomfort. I even got kids of about 8-11 years old pointing their crude little fingers at me, at us, at our home, shouting “Thailand Mudder” (Thailand Mother) or I’m hearing “something, something, Thai” whenever they passed us by.

It made me uncomfortable, I admit. I don’t like labelling. Especially if and when inaccurate.

It also makes me wonder what parents tell their kids about us, about Thailand and about me whom they thought is Thai. Or perhaps, short of thinking of them being rude, it was just me speculating stuff in my head and that it was actually nothing at all.

Yet, both Spud and Squirt too did not know any better when they have to respond to “where are you from and where were you born” questions. They are not wrong when it comes to answering right either. Still, when they respond verbatim, I wonder if the kids, our kids get judged by the incomplete information they have given to the adults.

This is when my inner patriotism comes alive.

As when it comes to being mistaken for a Thai just by the sheer virtue of our long-term residency in Thailand, verified by the birth of the kids over there and compounded by fact that I do look like any other Thai (or Filipina, or Indonesian or Hispanic or insert ethnicity here) on the street, I refuse to allow my Singaporean DNA be over-shadowed.

Just because we lived in Thailand once upon a (prolonged amount of) time and it happened to be the kids’ birth country, do not make us all Thai; especially not the kids.  Plus because there is not even an ounce of Thai blood in us, I can’t let this identity crisis slide.

It got both Spud and Squirt confused initially, too – symptomatic of being Third Culture Kids (TCK) both bearing a badge of culturally-confused identity and ethnicity. For simple, young minds, they too found it hard to grasp the concept that their being born in Thailand and has always lived in Thailand all their lives till recently, somehow did not make them Thai.

To them, it does not make sense because:

  • Papa was born in the Netherlands and that makes him Dutch
  • Mama was born in Singapore and that makes her Singaporean.
  • Given the same circumstances, how are they then not Thai?

It not hard to see their point, really. And it was not at all hard to explain that their national identity comes from being a direct descendent of their real Papa and Mama regardless of the country they were born in.  In their case, they are not even allowed a Thai Citizenship even if we wanted to; for the very obvious reasons that their parents are not Thai.

While the term TCKs may not be as relevant since they are now being uprooted to their Papa’s native land and already are embracing more Dutch, it dawned on me that Spud’s and Squirt’s answers to seemingly simple questions of where they really come from in relation to their birth country and their parents’ origins would inevitably require some elaborate, sometimes unnecessary explanations.

Yes, unnecessary. I could let it slide. Forget about it. Let them think what they want to think. Explaining it takes too much effort.

But I can’t.

It’s a matter of pride. It’s the inner calling of wanting to retain whatever part of me that’s left even after I “quit” on my birth home more than a decade ago. 

And I’ll repeat it a hundred times if I need to because while I respectfully embrace the various cultural diversity we have adopted as part of our life journey, third-culture or not, the little imps can never be Thai.

Just like I could never be Dutch or Silver Bullet being Javanese because he’s married to me.

Simply put: Let’s call a spade a spade. We could change our passports and “naturalise” so to speak, but really, think about it. When it comes to the crux of it, we could never claim the  ethnicity birthright of the kids being Thai and me being Dutch…neither by descent nor proximity. 

Because that would just be weird. After all, I am still a Singaporean. It was where I was rooted, it’s my DNA and no one can change that fact.

For the kids, there is no question about it – it is their rightful right to own part of their roots through their direct lineage while learning to be a responsible global citizen. It’s in their blood. They can deny it but they cannot ever run away from it even if they want to. 

Source: Google Image & FB Feed


What are your thoughts about being “culturally confused” and the impact of a possible identity crisis for kids growing up in a third culture?  How do you explain to your kids about their cultural identity? Do you think the identity matters?

Posted by:    |    10 Comment
  1. Ours have duel citizenship. One was born in the US and gets Canadian citizenship because his mom is Canadian. The other was born in Canada and has his US citizenship through his American dad. I thought that being born in Thailand would allow them to receive Thai citizenship?

    • I always think those with dual citizenship are cool; and your boys are lucky to have them too and no obligation to give up one for the other. We, Singaporeans, unfortunately are not allowed to have 2 citizenship. Nope – Thai citizenship is not automatically granted to kids born to foreign parents even though the kids were born in the Kingdom. Parents have to be Thai or the process and red-tape (of language proficiency etc applies). But, with the visa restrictions on Thai passports (and pretty damn strict too!), I do think it’s OK not to hold a Thai passport at all.

  2. Wow, you brought up a big issue here… personally I believe you belong to the country you feel you have your roots. For me, I consider myself Swiss, my children though, consider themselves Australian. Even my son who was born in Switzerland. He has no connection to the country he was born in besides knowing that he lived the first 3 years of his life there. His home is here and it will always be.

    • Honestly, this was a rather hard post for me to articulate – I went back and forth, edit and re-edit. I wanted to get it off my chest and hopefully, it did not come across as an offending post. You are certainly right on feeling the sense of belonging to the country you feel you have roots to. In your case, I can understand why…the integration is easier and blending-in is natural. Circumstances and perspectives on this can be subjective and in my case, I guess it is just a little personal and too close for comfort in a way.

      For a country like Thailand, the cultural dynamics is much more complex. Culturally, it would be hard for my kids to fully integrate there and be really like Thais. There’s the social structure and social hierarchy…complicated! Not to say that they living in Singapore would be any simpler too…Funny you mention about roots there. While my roots are in Singapore and I am a Singaporean, somehow I’m not feeling a huge sense of belonging there now. Perhaps I have been gone too long.

      This conversation is great over a several cuppas, Sandra! x.

  3. My sentiments exactly. Why wouldn’t you set the record straight? You should be proud of your roots, no matter where else you lived. My niece was born in Germany but never thought of herself as German. Her older siblings were born in Bosnia and that’s what she feels is her country or origin. 🙂
    Your kids are too little to understand but they’ll get it one day. Even after becoming a US citizen I still say I’m Bosnian, although I don’t have dual citizenship. It’s complicated and I feel for you.

    • Oh yes! You got me right away Jas. It’s just impossible to cut off the roots, isn’t it? Given the type of household we live in, I don’t think the kids see themselves as ever being Thai either. Although my world view has changed, I still embrace where I come from… and I want the kids to identify with that too – especially when it comes to food! LOL.
      I guess you can take the kid out of bosnia but you can never take bosnia out of the kids! This is one topic I could yak for a while, so let me make my way to your kitchen and park my ass near all the snacks you’ve got! 😉

  4. Nope, Bosnian at heart all the way, baby! Haha. You are welcome to park your ass in my kitchen any time! I don’t promise any snacks though, lol. But I’m sure we could whip something up. 🙂

    • oh I so would (shamelessly park my ass) and you’ll be sorry you ever said ÿ;pes and welcome!

  5. sue

    I have learned recently that, whatever kinds of prejudices, class or caste systems, or other bases for discrimination, often based on “identity” as you are describing it, we have here in the US, might be considered miniscule in comparison with some other parts of the world. That should be especially true for people who look basically the same i.e. skin color. However, I could possibly make a case for my own kids having some confusion about their identity, based solely on religion, which generally is not something a stranger can determine on first sight. I’m Jewish and my husband is Mormon, which are both minorities in the grand scheme of (popular) religions here.

    • Identity is a strange thing indeed. And you are so right that on the onset, it;s not something a stranger can determine at the first sight especially when it comes to religion. It’s interesting that you mention you and your husband have different religions and quite stark a difference, too. But obviously you have a peaceful marriage and keeping it together regardless of religion. That’s probably the most awesome thing!

      Thanks for stopping by, Sue! 🙂


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