I am going to give you two words: third culture. I’m sure many of you have heard of it but do you actually know what it means? And for those of you who have never heard of it, I am here to explain it to you. If I am being honest, I never knew this word existed up until last year, so trust me --you're not alone if you don’t know it either. According to Merriam-Webster, “the term 'third culture' refers to the mixed identity that a child assumes, influenced both by their parents' culture and the culture in which they are raised.” Now that we know what it means, let’s elaborate on it a little more.
I would like to continue by giving you an example coming from my own life. I am the child of parents who immigrated from Mexico. However, I was born and raised here in the United States. Now, because my parents are Mexican, I grew up speaking Spanish as my first language, as well as celebrating the traditions and culture that my parents brought from their home country; that is all my parents knew. As I grew up, I went to school, where I started to learn English and learned of the customs that came along with it. As time went on the American customs stuck with me and slowly started to become a part of my culture as well.
Growing up in two worlds was not always easy. As a kid I was always confused because when I would bring my lunch to school, it would always look different compared to those around me. Or when the holidays came around and the teacher asked us to share our family traditions, mine always seemed to be the odd one out. And when I came home to tell my parents about my day, there were things I couldn’t explain to them because I was no longer able to articulate my thoughts in their native tongue. And when I was struggling on my homework or wanted to ask them a question about the world around me, my parents weren’t able to help me or give me an answer because they themselves were still trying to navigate the new world that they were in.
As a kid, navigating through two different worlds was such a struggle because the thing you most aspire to feel is the sense of belonging. However, in my mind the sense of belonging became unreachable. For the longest time I felt like I never fit into either culture. I could never speak either language “correctly” or “fluently” as they would say. In American society, I am brown and “act too Mexican,” and on the other hand, compared to other Hispanics, I am considered “whitewashed” or I “have lost my culture.” And so I thought to myself, “well, what I am then?”
The truth comes down to this. You will never be good enough for society -or for anyone, as a matter of fact. You can never truly fit the standards of society. So what does that mean for me?
The solution to my dilemma with my identity came down to this: ACCEPTANCE. As I have gotten older, I have learned that it is okay that I am different and don’t fit into one culture or the other. In fact, partaking in both cultures has become a new blended culture which in turn has become my identity. In having a blended culture, I am able to enjoy the best of both worlds. I am able to think in two languages and switch from speaking one language to the other. I am able to listen to music, watch movies, and even enjoy memes in two languages. I also am able to celebrate traditions from both cultures and have created my own version of traditions. In having two cultures, I have become more self-aware and culturally aware of my surroundings. It has allowed me to connect with others in many ways that I feel like I couldn’t have done if it wasn’t for my blended background.
I would like to leave off with this. Having a third culture is not being in the middle of two different cultures. From my perspective, a third culture is a mixture of two cultures which in turn has become its own. It is the identity that you have created based on your experiences living in two different worlds.
So next time you find yourself feeling like you don’t belong… EMBRACE those differences and SHARE your experiences with those around you so it can be talked about more and others can learn about you. And most importantly be PROUD of who you are.