I’ve always been aware of my lack of cultural identity. I’m Filipino by ethnicity and citizenship and Nepali by osmosis. In terms of culture, I feel like I don’t have an anchor. If I’m not Filipino and I’m not Nepali, what am I?

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Patan Durbar Square

I’m a former expat kid. I was three when my dad’s work brought us to Nepal. I could say I felt more Nepali, as I was fluent in Nepali but not in Tagalog, went to a local school, and celebrated Hindu & Newari festivals, but the truth is I’d felt just as odd in Kathmandu as I do in Manila. My brother and I were the only non-Nepali kids in our whole school and the only full-Filipinos among our non-school friends.

When we moved back to Manila a few months shy of my ninth birthday, classmates called me maarte because I couldn’t speak Tagalog. If we’re with our Nepali friends, who consider my brother and I as one of them, I feel horrible because I don’t understand Nepali anymore.

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Third grade class photo

When Manila friends talk about home towns/provinces, I immediately think of Kathmandu. But when I visited Nepal a few years ago, I nearly had a breakdown at the entrance to one of the UNESCO Heritage Sites because I realised I wasn’t a local anymore. I was a tourist, being charged exorbitant tourist prices because I couldn’t speak the language anymore.

So if I’m not Filipino and I’m not Nepali, what am I?

Mha Puja (?)

It was a cousin, who’d spent most of his childhood in Tanzania and Kenya, who first introduced the term Third Culture Kid to me.

Third culture kid (TCK) is a term used to refer to children who were raised in a culture outside of their parents’ culture for a significant part of their development years.

…The first culture of children refers to the culture of the country from which the parents originated, the second culture refers to the culture in which the family currently resides, and the third culture refers to the amalgamation of these two cultures.

…Third culture individuals can also be referred to as cultural hybrids, cultural chameleons, and global nomads.

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Christmas pageant at my preschool.

With the popularity of low-cost carriers, international travel has become a huge thing among people my age. Which is great, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think I could have afforded to go back to Kathmandu if not for LCCs, but it also comes with this romanticisation of being rootless, of being restless, of wanderlust, which annoys me.

I feel like a lot of people romanticise these ideas but don’t think of how disjointed and othered it can feel. I know it makes me sound like a hypocrite since there’s nothing I love more than visiting other countries, but I think what makes travel great is the concept of home. I’ve been living in the Philippines  for 20 years now, and it still doesn’t feel like home. It still feels temporary.

So if I’m not Filipino and I’m not Nepali, what am I?

I guess Third Culture Kid is the closest I’m going to get. It’s not the answer I’ve been looking for, but it’s an answer nonetheless and I can live with that. 🙂

p.s Here’s a great TED talk on TCKs

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10 thoughts on “If I’m not Filipino and I’m not Nepali, What am I?

  1. “I feel like a lot of people romanticise these ideas but don’t think of how disjointed and othered it can feel.” – exactly!

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  2. Hi Gab. I feel this post of your very much, since I feel I am pretty much disjointed regarding my cultural identity. I grew up and identified as Filipino, but grew up learning English and American culture, and pushed my Chinese heritage in the back seat until past High School. Due to the disjoint, unfocused and lack of appreciation, I searched for other inspirations and ended up with learning Japanese culture. My parents would sometimes ask me who I am, really. And I would answer, “whatever and wherever I am, accordingly.”

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  3. Reading your post makes me wonder about my son as he was born in a Country his father and I immigrated but both of us comes from different Country as well and now currently living to where his Dad is working. So I guess that’s how life is. We are not the only one so just accept it this is happening as the World continue to revolve. Cheers! 🙂

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    1. At least when your son starts asking questions there’s an abundance of material on Third Culture and Cross Culture kids online. 🙂 When I was researching for this post, I remember thinking, “Where was all this when I was struggling to adapt in gradeschool?” Haha!

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  4. I believe you are what you want to be!

    I struggle with my identity too. For me it’s like being Thai-Burmese-American.

    I have come to terms being multicultural Asian American.

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  5. Woah. Fascinating story. I can totally relate. I grew up in Singapore speaking Chinese, but am slowly forgetting it since it’s been 10 years.

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