Zu Magazine is a publication of Zu Media. Below is an article from Issue 1: Skins.
Zu Magazine Managing Editor | Wesley Koswara
People are often proud of the culture they identify with. The art, language, religion and manners of expression that we inherit are the framework through which we understand the world and each other.
Oftentimes, the easiest way for us to identify people who are culturally like us and culturally different is by appearance. Frequently though, our expectations are subverted as soon as we look a little deeper.
Culture is usually passed on through family or environment, and race is often inherently tied to both. At the same time, race can be completely divorced from its surroundings.
A Caucasian Australian raised in India could be as culturally Indian as a native. So, if culture isn’t something defined by race, why do terms like “oreo” or “coconut” exist in our vocabulary when talking about others? Why are people who look one way and act in ways that defy our expectations so conspicuous to us?
Danielle Guerra is one of a handful of students at Azusa Pacific that identify as a Third Culture Kid (TCK). TCK’s are people who were born in one place and raised somewhere drastically different. As a result, TCK’s engage in several cultures, but don’t feel particularly tied to any one.
“Culturally I feel [my identity] is a mix of all three,” she said. “Mexican and African American and Japanese, just because it’s difficult not to end up having a lot of mixed cultural stuff when you’re living over there.”
Born African American in Lynchburg, Virginia, Guerra moved to Japan when she was just a year old, and lived there until she returned to the States to attend a university. Like many TCK’s she experienced the dissonance between skin color and culture.
“Being here, I’m almost more aware of my race than I ever was in Japan, because in Japan it’s all of the Americans together, so it’s not really about race, it’s about the country that you’re from. Here, everyone fits themselves into a cultural box and that’s really difficult for me to do,” Guerra said.
In Japan, Guerra explains, the social distinctions she experienced were national instead of racial, as Americans of any race were still a minority. Once in an environment completely American, cultural subgroups became the divisive factor.
Similar sentiments were expressed by another TCK, Laura Collins, a red-haired, blue-eyed Caucasian who grew up in Kenya.
“A lot of my friends were missionary kids alongside me,” Collins said. “So I felt very normal there … I guess I would feel more normal there, even though I was the minority, just because the people that I hung out with were in the same boat that I was in.”
Both students expressed a reluctance to share their cultural identity with others. Sometimes, they said, it was easier to integrate when people just assumed they were cultural natives.
“You almost don’t want to tell people where you’re from, that way you can stay normal in their eyes for longer,” Guerra said. “I feel like after you tell people you’re from a foreign country, they assume that they can’t relate to you, so a wall goes up.”
“You become someone that people don’t understand, or you become objectified. Not in a physical sort of way, but that you’re some kind of foreign thing that’s lived this really cool life. You’re not normal,” Collins said.
Aaron Hinojosa, Executive Director at the Student Center for Reconciliation and Diversity (SCRD), understands the struggle of cultural reconciliation within a single person.
“I believe that people like to label, and to put people in boxes that … make sense to them, which then allows them to be comfortable in a situation. So, they see a person and they might be the color of their skin, the way they look, their face, their body type, and all of a sudden they begin to form this idea,” he said.
Himself both Caucasian and Latino, Hinojosa knows all too well the pressure to act a certain way based on assumptions that others make based on outward appearances.
According to Hinojosa, “If it doesn’t make sense to them, then there’s that confusion or dissonance … but if they can label you and say, ‘So here’s what I know about what that is,’ and then they can work within that context, I think it puts them in a comfortable place.”
“I think knowledge and the way we get to this is learned. And I think if it is learned in a way that is detrimental to our society I think we can unlearn it. But that takes time, and I think it takes intentionality,” he said.
Hinojosa explained the solution to the paradoxical need for both diversity and unity is Christ. Ideally our first identity, and the only one that can completely bring together any varied and heterogeneous community, is found in the Cross.