Whether we like it or not, we all live under the label rule. We take one look at a person and attempt to fit them into easily identifiable boxes, categorize them and place them under labels.
We do this, often unaware that we are doing so, making quick judgments based on first impressions. Then, when we begin to get to know someone, we try to ask questions that will provide enough information as to allow us to fit them into the bigger picture. That picture is compartmentalized, though, in an attempt to make it easier for us to understand.
Without these tags and labels, we find it hard to make sense of others and ourselves, what roles we’re supposed to play or how we’re supposed to relate to one another.
The thing is, there are some of us who don’t fit the usual labels.
When you grow up cross-culturally, many of the traditional labels don’t seem to apply, and this just confuses people. Often, it confuses us, too. Try as we might, we just don’t fit the usual categories and groups, there isn’t a box that we fit neatly into.
As soon as you make a new acquaintance they want to know: ‘Where are you from?’. But as we all know well, this question never has a simple answer. ‘Do you prefer (insert current location) or (insert passport country) or (insert another place you have lived)?’ ‘Do you feel more (insert nationality) or (insert other nationality)?’.
Their curiosity is understandable, but I’m still trying to decide on the answers myself, let alone try to explain it to others…
I get it, I do. People just can’t seem to place my local accent with my obviously foreign looking face. They stare at me bizarrely and wonder, until they have the confidence enough to ask, ‘So where are you actually from?’ I know the answer they’re looking for, but I don’t always want to give that answer.
I don’t want them to place me under that label, I don’t want to be categorized like that, and yet they probably won’t stop asking until I give them the whole explanation. They sort of nod then, as if to say, ‘oh, that explains it’. But it doesn’t really.
You may feel more comfortable knowing I couldn’t possibly actually be from here, (not looking like this, anyway) and yet I am from here. I’m more from here than you’ll ever know.
Every time you insist in labelling me, you prove I’m not actually one of you and fling me out, searching again for a label I feel comfortable claiming as my own. Yet the more labels I look for, the more labels I end up discarding. Some because they don’t quite fit, others because you tear them away, however hard I try to hold onto them.
You may not be aware you do so, but it hurts every time you crush a label I’d tried to claim as my own. Because we try harder than you could ever imagine to claim some sort of label, some sort of way to identify ourselves that we actually feel represents who we truly are. Most seem vastly inadequate to describe the reality of our identity.
Which is why we come back to that one term that bizarrely seems to fit us, that one label that we feel comfortable with, that one category we slip into seamlessly, knowing that in doing so we are no longer alone. Though there are many of us and none of us are exactly the same, we fit in this category, we can identify with this tag and we feel proud of it.
TCK or ATCK. We claim it as our own, we wear it gladly, knowing we belong among those who, like us, also feel most comfortable with this label because it best describes the mixture of identities no one else can categorize.
It’s wide enough to cover all of our realities. It doesn’t limit you to a single place, language, culture, nationality or passport. It crosses borders, it spans continents, it embraces all who search for ‘home’.
TCK is a community in itself, and until we come across it, we often wander around aimlessly, wondering why we don’t fit the usual labels, why others won’t accept us into their clearly defined categories. However much we try to, however much we imitate in an effort to fit in, we never quite do.
Perhaps, we were looking in the wrong places. Perhaps we already belong, but simply haven’t realised it yet.
What labels do you claim?