When you look at my children what do you see? Do you think about their identity?
I’m a New Zealander. My children were born in Australia. They are half chinese. We live in Hong Kong.
When you ask them “Where are you from?” Bethany will proudly tell you she is Australian. Mitchell will tell you “Hong Kong”.
Both are correct.
“A third culture kid is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture. The third culture kid builds relationships to all the cultures, while not having full ownership in any.” –Ruth Van Reken
My children certainly have relationships with several cultures but struggle to identify fully with any one individually.
Mitchell doesn’t remember life in Australia. Bethany remembers remnants and knows we have a house back in Sydney. She loves the opportunity to go back home to Sydney for holidays, but then doesn’t understand why the kids aren’t like her. Mitchell goes back to Sydney and whilst he loves the open space and parks can’t wait to get back to the security blanket of Hong Kong.
Recently identity has become a worry for me as I have watched Bethany struggle within herself and who she is. On a weekly basis we have discussions about identity and culture.
“I’m Australian. Right mummy?”
“But I’m also New Zealand?”
“I’m not Chinese too though…”
-Actually, you are.
The confusion rolls across her face. As humans I think we are conditioned to try and slot ourselves into an identity and even at this young age Bethany is trying to figure out what hers is.
-You are all of those things.
“But I’m mostly Australian right?”
It is so hard to answer this kind of question. There is no right or wrong answer. We are an Australian family and Sydney will one day again be our home. However our home culture blends the best of Australian, New Zealand and Chinese to create our own distinct home life. Bethany supports the Wallabies, Mitchell the All Blacks. They speak Cantonese and their favourite foods are undeniably Asian. They use Maori and New Zealand colloquialisms as much as they do Australian ones. Even if we were back in Australia we would still have an undeniable mix of culture at work in our everyday lives.
How do I reply? I normally tell Bethany who I am, and who here dad is, where she was born and where she is now. I tell her if she wants to think of herself as Australian that’s fine, but that she will always be Chinese and New Zealand as well. I’m not sure if I am supposed to fit us into a slot and force my children to identify with one nationality, or remain on our current path of letting them choose how they want to identify themselves.
I have had one parent find it difficult that I allow my children to remain so ambiguous. She proceeded to tell me my kids “weren’t really Australian” so I shouldn’t allow them to identify as such. Thankfully that kind of attitude is not the norm. I didn’t waste my breath explaining to her that their daddy, despite being chinese, was Australian. Nor did I bother to mention my own Australian bloodline. She is entitled to her opinion. I just hope her children grow up with a much more open mind about culture and identity – as Australian kids living in Hong Kong I am sure they will.
I want my children to be proud of and understand cultures, including those around them as well as their own. We expose them to as many cultural experiences as possible in order for them to experience and learn.
I hope my children will not only discover their own unique identity but also respect others for being as different and individual as they are.