The Third Culture Identity Crisis

Exploring what it means to exist between two cultures, and know ‘home’ as a place differing from your parents’

Third Culture Kid, defined: A person who has spent their developmental years outside their parents’ culture; the third culture kid builds relationships to all [the] cultures, without having full ownership in any. That comes from 2009 research from Ruth E. Van Reken, David C. Pollock and Michael V. Pollock.

For the majority of the Glendale community, that means the cultural intersection is between having Armenian parents and an American upbringing. For me, I live in my own grey area between the Arab and Western world.

In the era of globalization, the population stuck between two cultures is ever-growing.  As a child, it was getting glued to the TV at every new Disney Channel feature, listening to the radio show “Voice of America” on the way to school, jamming out to Natasha Beddingfield’s Unwritten on my older sister’s green iPod Nano, and coming home to overhearing my parents exasperatedly express their concern for our dying Arab heritage over the dinner table where my mother’s prepared fattoush — my all-time favourite dish.

As a 20-year-old, it’s sitting in a Lebanese restaurant and wondering whether to pronounce “hummus” with an anglicized accent or the way it was intended. It’s wishing I could have fuller conversations with my grandmother, but responding with “Canada” when Uber drivers ask where I’m from.

My identity became “too-Western-for-the-Middle-East, too-Arab-for-the-west.”

Years passed as my childhood played out, and not once did I even consider that I could exist in a grey area. My identity was an enigma to me, a curse of sorts. I longed to be part of this Western idea, like every celebrity I saw on TV and heard on the radio, yet also, I longed to feel at home whenever I’d go visit family in Lebanon. And as with any ultimatum, constant comparison of the two ensued. Which cultural norms dominate; the values my parents raised me with or the values tied to the idea of freedom, the ones that are dominating everything I consumed? 

Being so uninvolved with my own heritage, as inevitable as it was, became merely a source of guilt as I grew more self-aware. The ability to look down on our own traditions and values for simply being different from what dominated pop culture, became a generation-wide skill among younger Arabs. Our most successful schools, busiest restaurants, and busiest cities were purely the most Western ones, and it was no coincidence (ie; Dubai). Being externally exposed to Western culture while still trying to be taught internally to embrace my Arab heritage was almost paradoxical. At that point, I’d spent my whole life learning this new, glorified, polar opposite of what all the family that has come before me has called home.

I believed growing up straddling two identities resulted in me not being able to fully discern either; but rather than a melting pot, I’ve turned my identity into a mosaic.

As a 20-year-old  today, I live in my own beautiful grey area. Existing wholly in either or both realms is no longer the goal. The idea that my sense of art, social institutions, and merits should only come from one place dissipated, as the revelation that loving apples doesn’t need to require disapproving of watermelons emerged. The very definition of identity, “the fact of being who or what a person is” is truly boundless, and once we come to terms with that is when we could let our identity form and thrive.

So this one’s for all of you that answer “Where are you from?” with “Well…” You and I are fortunate enough to see the world through so many lenses; to accumulate our favourite phrases, songs, recipes, methods of thought from more than one place and emerge as individuals of what we choose to value.