A Tale of Two Cultures: grappling with identity
Updated: Dec 20, 2020
Being a Tamil woman, born in Germany and raised in England, I know a little about what it is to grapple with identity. Especially when young, our differences grate on us because we just want to fit in. Others may also treat us differently because we don't sound or look like them or behave differently as we have different cultures in us.
At the time, like many of us, I resented other people who made me feel unwelcome and even my background as I just wanted to look and be like everyone else. That human need for belonging. Maybe then I would know exactly what I am and have something in common with my peers.
There's a word for it. Biculturalism. This can be incredibly confusing to navigate. Who am I really? I am not Tamil enough for South Asian culture and not British or German enough for the Western culture. But somehow I am both.
But I realise now what a gift it is. Not just the rich and beautiful culture itself, but the things we gain from being isolated and realising the people around us are so different to how we are. Now, I know what you're thinking. What rubbish! How can being an outcast ever feel good? I'm really saying this with the best intentions, not because being alone isn't lonely or discrimination isn't hurtful but because we really gain insights, character and skills that others don't have...
The world is a big place: perspective
When we're younger, we're much more vulnerable. We're discovering our own unique identity but at the same time really want to fit in. I think that's why being an outcast, at that time in particular, can be hard to forget. But personally, I think it can harden us or make us kind. As we move forward and find people who are kindred spirits, who share similar experiences, it makes us realise, we just believed that this small world was everything. But the whole world of people was and is waiting for us.
Even from a young age, as we're trying to fit in, we could see the whole world for what it was (even if we didn't realise at the time). No bubble. This has and will help us in the future. It means we're under no illusion. We realise it's not us versus them. Despite our stark differences, we are all human.
All in all, it gives us a singular advantage. Meeting people who are 'different' will not phase us as much.
There is no 'normal': their loss, our gain
This old nutshell. You know, despite everything, I really wouldn't change anything for the world. There would be no me. Maybe I wouldn't have bothered writing this. The compassion we get for people who are outside what one culture and society deems 'normal' is not the only gain. The truth is, there is no such thing as normal. By being someone who was marginalised, we meet an amazing set of people who are also there with us. People that may be dismissed by others as 'unusual' or 'different', we will not feel the need to push away. We meet incredible people from all walks of life. It really is their loss and our gain.
We gain a varied and encompassing mindset from being immersed in so many cultures. I think it's such a shame I didn't understand when I was younger. Having a rich background is not a burden. To think that I wanted to reject it, seems unbelievable to me now. With our head on straight, we'll realise that it opens so many views to see the world in a certain way. We're not drifting through life with one viewpoint. We have a colourful lens to see the sometimes arduous but beautiful world in a new way.
Creativity: immersion without travel
There are interesting studies that test the creativity of individuals who have lived in two cultures. This is pretty eye-opening. I think it's just the way we have to assimilate between two cultures since a young age. Our brain will generally see things through a unique filter, which will help in creative endeavours. This is the same effect we get when travelling and seeing different cultures. We have this innately.
We belong to all
All these wonderful insights we get from being from two cultures. It really is a pleasure and a privilege. As much as we rejected it before, we must embrace it all now to make up for it. The next time it feels like being in two cultures feels like a barrier, makes it hard to communicate with our parents or makes it hard for us to belong - remember! We decide what we are. No one can tell us how to live and who we are. Both belong to us. We only need the courage to listen to our instinct and not be swayed by strong forces that tell us what we should be.
I will leave you with this:
“Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armour yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you" (George RR Martin).