Making a "foreign" tradition one's own

Decorative image of two towering white Thai stupas against the blue sky

Every year, our Thai family goes to the family temple for monks' prayers. I always thought of it as "their" ritual...but I finally begin to think of it as my own chance to remember family members who've passed on.

My husband's Thai family annually gathers at their family temple to pay respects to those who have gone before us. The ritual includes visiting the stupa where (some of) the ashes of Husband's grandparents, uncle, great-aunt and great-uncle, and now his mom are interred.

I respect this ritual because it's important to my Thai family but always thought of it as "their ritual," "their culture."

I saw the local rituals as interesting but unconnected to myself. I was happy that I was assimilating a bit—enough to know how to participate—and that made me feel a little less of an expat in a foreign culture. But it was only on the surface. 

Then last year, it dawned upon me that the prayers whose words I didn't understand could be for my Japanese grandmothers and grandfathers and uncle and great-grandmother and great-grandfather too.

That while my Thai family was remembering their ancestors and family members, I could remember my Japanese family and honor their memories.

It was a comforting thought, because I haven't been able to visit the graves in Japan in years.

It's nice to find a part of this "foreign" culture that connects to something personal. A piece of it becomes "mine," no longer "theirs."

When I was much younger, I grappled with my cultural identity. When I was a teenager in the US, I clung to my being Japanese (or at least, Asian, adamantly not American), but at the same time, I never felt I was Japanese enough; I was a foreigner in Japan.

Maybe as a reaction to that, I grew rather blasé about "my" culture.

Lately—and it's mainly thanks to all the virtual connections I've made under lockdowns, so thank you (?), lockdown—I'm starting to process how my Third Culture Kid upbringing has shaped who I am. 

I have both East and West inside of me. And no one culture will define me. I will have my own funny, mixed up culture. 

And one day, I think I will be able to embrace that and stop feeling like I'm not "enough" of anything.


TCKs of Asia podcast logo. A tree with colorful bubbles on its branches, with the title Third Culture Stories
Sooooo grateful for my encounter with TCKs of Asia <3 If you're a TCK with links to Asia, do check the group out! 

They've hosted some incredible forums on the Asian twist to the TCK experience — through language, family relationships, schooling, etc. You can listen to past forums on their podcast.

(Podcast logo design by Karen Tan)


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