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”.
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, ourkids 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.
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?