Column

Diaspora Dilemmas

11 August 2019

If you explained the premise of the movie 127 Hours to any ‘third culture kid’, almost all of us would be able to substitute ourselves in for the protagonist. Being stuck between a rock and a hard place is a sentiment we know all too well.

Immigrant kids, especially those who have grown up in the diaspora, are often caught in this unexplainable impasse. On the one hand, we have family, traditions and our own ethnic perceptions of culture. On the other hand, we have Western traditions, culture and the prioritisation of the individual. It’s no easy feat being caught in the middle of these two worlds, and just as you think you have a handle on one, the other tends to pop up and remind you that you’ll never have the balancing act down-packed.

The familial expectations on third culture kids to set the right example for younger family members, or follow a predetermined path regarding education and employment is a very constricting space to be in. Doing anything that contradicts what your family ‘wants’ for you feels like an act of betrayal, but following ‘your dreams’ seems about as real a concept as ever being colour- matched correctly at Sephora; a fantasy.

So often, with the enormous pressure on us all to assimilate into mainly Western societies, it sometimes feels like we have to do so at the expense of our cultural origins. Names become anglicised (veeralakshmi=Veera), wardrobes become full of jeans and shirts, and home comfort food gets replaced by a Hungry Jacks meal deal. Culture becomes an afterthought, and it isn’t until you get tagged in a meme on Subtle Asian/Curry Traits, or overhear someone talking in your mother tongue that you realise how detached you’ve become from the very fabric of yourself.

And so, the process of reclamation becomes a journey in coming home to yourself. You no longer cringe when someone calls out your ‘real’, your full name. My wardrobe has been decolonised, too, with kurtas replacing shirts and shawls taking the place of Cotton:On scarves. And on the days when I need a quick portal back to home, back to comfort, my UberEats account bears the brunt of the feast sized order from the closest Indian restaurant near me. Although, truthfully, nothing beats the satisfaction of a trip to the local Asian grocer, to pick up specialised ingredients you just don’t find in the lovely token ‘Asian/Indian’ section in Woolies.

And in coming home to yourself, you realise that your home isn’t one with defined borders, or a clear demarcation of where one culture ends and another begins. You have become a beautiful amalgamation of the two.

While the journey into adulthood should, ideally, be up to the individual and shaped by their own desires for the future, however wild or whimsical, immigrant kids often sacrifice their own dreams for the sake of pleasing our parents or maintaining familial harmony. We shrink ourselves down, become content with plagiarised ideas of our futures and spend a lifetime trying to squish ourselves into these rigid moulds of expectation.

The more I’ve surrounded myself with third culture kids, the more I’ve realised that this isn’t something, like my questionable outfit choices, that will improve with age. It’s a space that I’ll realistically occupy for the rest of my life. But, it reiterates the extreme importance of support networks, of diaspora communities coming together and sharing in our experiences.

As I’m beginning to fend off the dreaded “what’s next” question as I approach the end of my degree, I am caught between following the path that my family has subconsciously pushed me towards, and my own gut feelings about what I should do and where I should go next. It’s nothing less than being on the world’s worst seesaw, and every time I feel like I’ve adjusted to familial suggestions of what the future holds, I’m hit with the rude awakening that, perhaps, it isn’t what I want. We are often the first to navigate these spaces, or highlight their existence to our families and so the conversations we have, the dialogue and discourses we open will help chart the rocky seas for those of us yet to come.

Although, sometimes, it would be handy having a GPS.


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