My President was a Third Culture Kid

My President was a Third Culture Kid

Although he may not have meant it, Ta-Nehesi Coates’ article on President Obama in The Atlantic pretty much names him a Third Culture Kid (TCK) without explicitly saying so. According to Wikipedia, TCK’s are “children raised in a culture other than their parents’ (or the culture of the country given on the child’s passport, where they are legally considered native) for a significant part of their early development years. They are exposed to a greater variety of cultural influences.”

Third Culture Kids often learn to live in two spaces without fully occupying one or the other.  Without being capable of occupying one or the other. President Obama was raised a black man by a white woman and white grandparents. But his racial characteristics are not simply what has helped him appeal to white and blacks (and other minorities). From Coates’ article:

To simply point to Obama’s white mother, or to his African father, or even to his rearing in Hawaii, is to miss the point. For most African Americans, white people exist either as a direct or an indirect force for bad in their lives. Biraciality is no shield against this; often it just intensifies the problem. What proved key for Barack Obama was not that he was born to a black man and a white woman, but that his white family approved of the union, and approved of the child who came from it.

Click here to read the whole thing. It’s well worth your time.

Being a Third Culture Kid is perhaps analogous to being bi-racial in some aspects. There is a marked cultural difference between being Black in America and being of European/Caucasian ancestry. And so President Obama has learned to how to code-switch between worlds. He was taught to see the positivity of his white side by grandparents who embraced him wholeheartedly.

Obama’s early positive interactions with his white family members gave him a fundamentally different outlook toward the wider world than most blacks of the 1960s had. Obama told me he rarely had “the working assumption of discrimination, the working assumption that white people would not treat me right or give me an opportunity or judge me [other than] on the basis of merit.” He continued, “The kind of working assumption” that white people would discriminate against him or treat him poorly “is less embedded in my psyche than it is, say, with Michelle.”

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I Bought (Another) House – Wait, Why?

I Bought (Another) House – Wait, Why?

… or Shut-up State Farm, Your “Nevers” Commercial is Wrong!

A few years ago, I moved out of my house in the ‘burbs into an old apartment in the ceetee. No longer did I have to brave a 45-60 minute commute to dahntahn or have excuses for not going out after getting home in the evening. I once took a bus home at 2:00 AM after a party. It was a new lease on life and I swore I would never buy again. I was free and unmoored; the world was my oyster!

Today, I closed on a new purchase in the Mt Washington neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Wait, what? … I got bored. And at least it’s not in the suburbs, right? Right.

No matter the allure of the jet-setting modern life, as breathlessly hyped by the media, I don’t think humans will ever stop searching for community in some fashion. It’s why we get to know the local bartender or recognize the same food delivery persons. Why we make friends with neighbors we wouldn’t have otherwise befriended. Why we stop to pet the same dog almost every morning. Why we yearn for old friends to move back to the old homestead.

Why we buy a house in our hometown even while wondering how nice it would be to live in Dubai.
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Growing Up In Your Hometown

Growing Up In Your Hometown

I wanted to circle back on the discussion I had with my friend about trying to build a connection to the motherland  when it’s so physically (and even culturally) remote for the non-national. It should probably not surprise that just as I was thinking of the idea of living where you live, Rod Dreher, one of my favorite writers, pens a post about not living where you live:

One of the lessons the admiring American writer learned from his experience was that a traveler, which is to say an outsider,  experiences the beauty of a place without having to deal with the pain of the everyday, because he can always leave. Paterniti did live in Guzman with his family for a time, so he was no mere tourist. But the vantage point his status as outsider gave him allowed him to see only what he wanted to see about life in Guzman, to project his own hopes and desires onto the little village.

But as Dreher succinctly puts it, the converse can also be true:

A funny thing about people: we often do not live where we live.

Here is a problem central to the experience of growing up in Pittsburgh or any region, really. When your experience of a particular place is tied up in family and when the centrality of that experience is also built around mundane things like going to high school and getting haircuts and grocery shopping and all the little things in life, it’s easy to overlook the greater scope of what a place can offer. All you might see is the negatives that the Frenchman in Dreher’s article sees.

I think of myself, having lunch with a friend in Paris, praising his city as a form of Arcadia, and having him say no, no, no, you don’t know what it’s like to live here. It’s not what you think, he said, then told me about the hardships that I, of course, could not see, because I was an outsider who wanted to see it as Arcadia.

Friendship (pic)

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Connections to the Motherland, Connections to Where People Live

Connections to the Motherland, Connections to Where People Live

Last weekend, I had Primanti’s iftar with an old friend who was in town. He asked me if/how connected I feel to the motherland. I do, I feel at least to a larger degree than most non-nationals.

But one of the things that has helped me feel a connection to the motherland is familiarity through travel. Over a span of a decade, from 1996-2007, I think I visited Bangladesh about 5 times. Each visit was different but each time I felt more familiar with the country. When you visit the motherland, it’s natural that relatives will invite you out to numerous, numerous dawats (translate: dinner parties). Those occasions helped me to see my cousins and nieces and nephews as real people and not just abstractions whose grades my parents bragged about over the years.

Lock & Dam Project (Feni, 2002)

At the same time, my parents also ran interference to make sure that dawatland didn’t take over our visits. We did touristy things and tried to experience the country, not necessarily the way that locals do but in a way to try to understand its ethos. For me, that connection comes through food and history and geography. We visited places like Sriti Shodho (National Martyr’s Monument), Mainamati, Ahsan Manzil, Lalbagh Fortress, the Feni Lock & Dam project  and my personal favorite, Sitakunda Ashram in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. We went on a boat ride with my Saif unkel. We went to the annual Boi Mela (book fair), my father’s favorite thing to do.

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The Terrors of Owning Furniture

The Terrors of Owning Furniture

… The Vagabond Class and the Third Culture Kid

I sometimes wonder how the instability of my 5 years with Cerner has shaped my life in a way that just doesn’t happen to people with “normal” lives. I spent 5 years leading a somewhat vagabond life. Actually, moreso than being a vagabond, my lifestyle was geared towards a sense of ‘always moving on’. Nothing I did, none of my decisions were geared towards any sense of permanence. My oldest sister, who is a true vagabond, seemingly has more permanent possessions and connections than I do.

Even though I built a house two years ago, I considered it a mostly financial decision.  I still do.  It’s a house; is it a home.  It took almost 7 months of sitting on the floor in my game room before I bought a couch, not just because I wanted to get a good one but because I felt almost terrified of the idea of furniture, which (to me) symbolizes the idea of being grounded. I’m not opposed to be grounded, per se, but I’m very unfamiliar with the concept.

I’ve been working in Pittsburgh sans travel for about four months now and I still feel somewhat strange in not waking up at 4:00AM on Monday to drive to the airport. Losing work-from-home Fridays has been tough. I miss per diem and I’m only now starting to cook as often as I should like because I’m still used to eating out Mon-Thurs. I don’t miss the work but I still find the ‘normal’ life to be an odd construct.

A friend of mine back at Cerner recently decided to relocate out to Abu Dhabi, where I took 3 working trips when I was at the company. She’s picking up her entire life and moving to the ultimate capitalist wet dream. She’ll get a pretty phat relo package, a housing stipend, pay no income taxes and will have the opportunity to work in Egypt and travel through the Mideast, Africa and Asia, if she chooses. She describes the move as being the exact type of change that she needed. Had I not gotten this job at PNC, I think I would have up and moved to Abu Dhabi as well. Read more about The Terrors of Owning Furniture