And I’m Both: On Being Chinese (but not really) in China

As we were leaving McDondald’s this week Rachel had her “I’m about to confess something” look (she’s recently decided to come clean on every single white lie, stolen cookie or minimally rebellious thought she has had since conception).  “Dad, that lady asked me if I was from America.”  She paused and switched to her “I’m a little afraid this might get me in trouble” look and finished with a shaky voice  . . . “I said yes.” Me, being the predictably dense father with no clue what lurks beneath the surface of the female mind, said something profound like, “hmm, grab your nuggets and let’s go.”“But Dad,” she stopped me, “I’m not sure if that’s true.” 


Rachel’s daily existence is confusing for mere mortals.  She was born in Western China and obviously looks Chinese (even when she’s not doing the finger thing with her eyes).  However she was adopted by white people from middle America and lived there for two years.  Then she moved back to China (only to the South this time) where she lived for a year before moving to the Northeast for two years.  Then she spent a year in the States in the back of a Buick driving north, south, east and west and finally landing on the southernest tip where her white parents adopted her half caucasian, half African-American brother (see “On Being Black in China).  Now we all live together in Eastern China where people daily ask us questions with no clear cut red, yellow black or white answers.  Tough questions like, “where are you from?” Ok, simple for us, but a bit confusing for our little TCK.

I’m realizing that my reading audience  is split right down the middle here.  One of you is saying “aw geesh, if I hear another thing about TCK’s I’m gonna puke” and the other one is saying “a TC what?” For both of your sakes, I’ll be brief in the explanation.  A TCK (Third Culture Kid) is the kid who isn’t fully connected to his or her parents home culture because they don’t live there but they’re also not fully connected to the culture in which they live because they are not from there.  They don’t fit neatly into a box of one or the other so they develop a “third culture” with unique characteristics that they share with the millions of TCK’s growing up cross culturally around the world.  One of those unique characteristics is not knowing how to answer the question, “where are you from?” There are many more.

I could drone on for days about the depth and insightfulness of Third Culture Kids and maybe I’ll post some more about that later but what I really want to say is – Rachel is awesome. I love watching her face get all scrunched up while her brain processes the complex dynamics of multiple cultures in a blender.  Her response to the daily inquisition is sometimes frustrated, often confused but always honest (even if she’s not sure she’s telling the truth).  Our hope and prayer for her is that she loves and embraces her Chineseness and her Americaness and her TCKness and her adoptedness and her freak show of a family because all of them play a role in molding her into who she is . . . awesome.

We were proud yesterday when the lady selling turtles on the street asked her where she was from.  She responded in perfect Chinese. “I’m American . . . and Chinese.”

Here are some brilliant resources for and about TCK’s for both of you:
wikipedia on TCK’s:  good place to start
Libby Stephens:  super wise TCK expert and speaker
Interaction International:  tons of resources
US Dept of State on TCK’s:  interesting facts and some good links 
tckid.com:  social network specifically for TCK’s
Denizen Magazine:  online mag designed for TCK’s

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