The 4th of July. I suppose it's the most important holiday for America as a nation. With it comes pride, patriotism, and the celebration of freedom. But I have a confession to make: I can't say I have ever shared these sentiments to the same extent as my fellow countrymen. Perhaps that's because I've never been quite sure who my "fellow countrymen" are.
How does one define one's citizenship anyhow? I suppose the easy answer to that is by looking at one's passport. I have an American passport, so I'm American. But how did I become an American? I was born in a nation in the midst of change. Two days after I entered the world, the country where I was born gained its independence and changed its name to Zimbabwe. My father, too, was born in that country (although it was then Southern Rhodesia). But he was not Zimbabwean... or Rhodesian... or American. He was Canadian.
So why did I get U.S. citizenship? The answer lies with my mother. She was born and raised on Long Island, N.Y., and for that sole reason, I now carry an American passport.
Or so I thought.
In reality I never felt truly Zimbabwean either. I was caught between worlds.
Welcome to the life of a TCK, a Third Culture Kid.
What is a Third Culture Kid??
So basically we TCKs create a culture all of its own, a culture that is as diverse as the nations we represent and whose unifying thread is that we don't fully belong in any one of them. "Mobility" runs in our veins.
Our kids are TCKs. Ati is the most obvious... Boy, is she going to be a mix of cultures! Poor girl! We finally brought her to an Ethiopian restaurant near Boston - Fasika (we highly recommend it!). While she loved shoving injera down her throat, it is sad to see that she's already losing most of the Amharic language she knew just months before. She will always hold a piece of her beautiful Ethiopian heritage in her heart yet she will never again feel completely, 100% Ethiopian.
Don't get me wrong, being a TCK isn't all bad. Someone once asked me if I had a choice would I want to live my life as a TCK again. I didn't have to think long. My answer was YES! The life of a TCK offers tremendous benefits, and those benefits - for me anyway - outweigh the heartache and confusion. For one, the Fatherhood of God became so much more real to me when I had to say good-bye to my family just weeks before entering college. (Psalm 139) Also, I've learned in a fresh way what it means to be a foreigner on this earth and a citizen of my true home in Heaven. (Hebrews 11:13-16) Then there's the perk of getting to experience new places and being able to say you've been clawed by a leopard and charged by an elephant.
That said, there is some pretty big heart ache that comes along with being a TCK. I'm sure the most difficult thing for most of us are the constant good-byes. I guess the most important lesson I've learned with that is to not try to replace people or to cover up the hole they leave in your heart. There is not a single person on earth who has meant something to me that has been replaced by a new friend. Every person, every friendship is unique. I've got a lot of holes in my heart.
So what does a TCK do on the the 4th of July?
Do what the natives do.
And on this patch of earth that means having a cook-out with family and friends. It also means enjoying the sights and sounds of fireworks while I try to explain to Ati that she need not fear - it is the custom of the natives here to celebrate by playing with explosives and various other flammable objects...
Pollock, David C. & Van Reken, Ruth E. (2001). Third culture kids: The experience of growing up among worlds. Finland: Nicholas Brealey Publishing in association with Intercultural Press.