Friday, June 22, 2012

Hidden Immigrants, Cultural Cracks, and Dr WHO?

I like Dr. Who, or “the Doctor” as he likes to be called. He travels in time and space in a blue box disguised as a 1950s police box. He has two hearts, and regenerates. Some people know him by his really, really long scarfe (that would be my dad), others by his bow tie (yes, bow ties are cool). His favorite word is “Run!” He has a sonic screwdriver that does everything and nothing. He has lots of friends and innumerable enemies. He looks very human—but he’s definitely alien.

This alien identity is something that his human companions have to figure out. They constantly yell at him about being inhuman. He just as constantly reminds them that he is NOT human. He sometimes tries to go undercover and act human—football, male-bonding, even pretending to be gay—which always makes people more suspicious, prompting more questions.

Yup, he makes a good candidate for a “hidden immigrant.”

Pollock and Van Reken, in their book The Third Culture Kid Experience, describe TCKs who look like their surrounding culture but think differently as “hidden immigrants.” When a TCK returns to their home country, where they look like the majority of the population, people presume that they are culturally the same, since they look the same on the outside. It’s often a culture shock to both the TCK and the “native” they may be interacting with when they discover differently. At a friend’s bridal shower recently, I commented how odd it was that opening gifts was the central activity; in Nepal (and many Asian cultures) it is rude to open presents in front of the giver, for fear of showing disappointment. “Oh, so they haven’t learned to fake it like we have?” the girl next to me laughed and slapped my leg in jest. I meekly replied it was just a cultural difference. This example is a more a benign crack where two cultures meet; I have experienced more disjointed or explosive ones.

Where the Doctor is from is question often asked. “I’m here, now,” is one reply he’s given. I tell people that “I currently live in Riverside” and if they pry, that “my family lives in North Carolina.” That usually shuts them up, but some go further: “But where are you from?” I might offer that I was born in West Virginia, or make them beat around the bush by saying “I’ve moved around a bit.” Some bluntly ask “where’s home?” to which I often reply “Heaven.”  

The Doctor’s identity remains a mystery. “Dr. WHO?” people ask. He might give some crazy answer about how he feels the earth spinning and hurtling through space; nothing ever stands still for him. Or, he may just not say anything, leaving the person asking in exasperation as he flies off in the TARDIS. People weave him into conspiracy theories (why else would he show up in so many state histories?), declare him alien (which he confirms), and go back and forth between viewing him as a bad guy (death follows wherever he goes) or a good guy (he eventually saves the day). I will tell people I’m American (my passport says so), and that I’m a TCK (which takes some explaining). But I’ve had people declare me “not American” (so what am I then?), “Asian” (which one?), or “an egg” (white on the outside, yellow on the inside, though for Nepal that analogy probably doesn’t quite work).

Or rather, is the Doctor’s identity being shaped as time weaves by? Could “the Doctor” be all of the above? Isn't "alien" a rather relative term? Whose to say I could be American yet not American at the same time? Born in West Virginia but never been home? A point where two (or more?) cultures meet, creating cracks in the web of culture? Heck, where’s the fun where mysteries don’t abound?

Mystery of mysteries, that God would make for me
A place within His family, though once His enemy
The Judge of every sinner sent Christ to Calvary
To prepare a place for me

Judgment should be given for this guilt upon my head
But the Father of all glory crushed His Son instead
Now I’ve been adopted, for God made this to be
You prepared a place for me

Blessed be, blessed be
My God and Savior, You’ve shown me favor
You prepared a place for me

Prepared a Place for Me
by Doug Plank