Guest Post: Erin the TCK

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Erin and I reuniting for the second time ever in Hong Kong!

She fully embraced life in India, stray puppy and celebrating Holi included ;)
This is a guest post by the wonderful Erin Vignali. I missed her by a year when I moved to the Philippines my senior year. We ended up meeting because she knew a family that I knew when I lived in New Delhi and, after sitting across from one another at a reunion dinner, we hit it off immediately. Enjoy!  

And, if you are not already familiar with TCKs, here is a list of my Top Ten TCK Quirks
Before the age of 14, I had little to no awareness of how white I really was and how that lack of melanin would determine people's impressions of me for the rest of my life. I was born in my parent's childhood home of Queens, New York, but by the age of six, before I could form any lasting attachment to the culture there, my family had already moved to our first overseas home, The Netherlands. My school was extremely international and despite our diversity in culture, language, and appearance, our age coupled with our international setting made us blind to our differences. Our next two moves, Singapore and Japan, put me in American schools which led to a difficult adjustment period culturally but did allow me to physically blend in. However, for my sophomore year of high school, we moved to the Philippines and I ended up in a school which was comprised of a predominantly Filipino demographic.
My whiteness was constantly pointed out; how I didn't tan very well and how red my face got when I was hot, sunburned, embarrassed, or any number of other actions that my sensitive skin decided to display. They had fun pointing out my differences, poking fun at the white girl, telling me I blended into the white walls of our lunch room. One friend eloquently defended me by explaining that I was far too red and splotchy to blend in. Yes, thank you teenage acne. If I did something dumb or goofy, it was because I was white. Often times I felt like some animal on display, a side show freak at the circus for entertainment. I remember going to the mall one time with one of the three white girls in my year and how we sat in the food court for over an hour complaining about how hard it was being white in our school. We knew we couldn't talk to anyone else about it. Try telling a non-white person how difficult it is to be white... Think Chris Rock in "The Longest Yard", "Hey! You're white! Smile!"
Eventually, I figured out how to blend (not into the walls). I joked with them, "Haha I know. I glow!!" A line I still use here in India with my local boyfriend and friends. Thumbs up for self deprecation as a survival technique.
But regardless of how much I dealt with because of my skin colour I still had a lot of friends outside of my race, something that changed dramatically when I moved to Massachusetts for university.
Having grown up overseas since the age of 6, with most of my life spent in Asia, I was most comfortable around what I considered my "fellow" Asians. I was uncomfortable with how white my school was, I was confused by racism and the separation of students by skin colour. And to make matters worst, I was ostracised even by my white peers whom found me difficult to relate to on account of my upbringing. During orientation, an African American guest speaker encouraged students not to judge their minority peers in thinking that their race was the deciding factor in their acceptance. I look around the room, deeply confused, "That's a real thing?!"
Different student clubs were introduced to us during orientation and none caught my eye quite like the Filipino student club. I wanted nothing more than to join and I even spoke to one of the members who encouraged me to join but even his kind words couldn't get me over the fear of being judged. Throughout my time there, I tried desperately, to no avail, to befriend other Asians students. I had lived in their ancestors homes longer than they had but I still wasn't right. My Chinese American roommate took me out with her Asian friends one night for ice cream, somewhere over the course of the conversation, I found an opportunity to bring up my Asian upbringing. I imagined that my words would melt their hearts, that I too would be seen as Asian American and that they would take me into their arms with a big hug, "Come here, you honorary Asian you!!" Instead, I got an odd glare and awkward silence. Oops.
While there, one of my closest friends was a devout Christian, African American girl from the South, that had lived her entire life in the US. As a lapsed catholic, whiter-than-snow girl from Asia, you may not think we had much to talk about but the one thing that brought us close was that we were both uncomfortable around large populations of white people. Now, I wouldn't say I'm a self-hating white person but I am definitely uncomfortable around my own kind. I came from a graduating class with four white people out of a 150 something. Where I came from, I was the minority and that's how I was comfortable.
I eventually left Massachusetts, despite the few close friends I had made. I couldn't fit into a place where the non-white people wanted nothing to do with me and the white people constantly told me that I looked normal but I wasn't.
I wound up moving back to Japan, my childhood home, for a one year study abroad. I soon learned that my TCK upbringing and my international friends as a child were a far cry from real life in Japan. The first year there, I stayed with a host family and befriended some more study abroads from the main campus in Philadelphia, three of whom were African American. Thinking I had blurred the lines of separation that kept our races apart in the US, I was truly enjoying my new life in my old home. Then one afternoon, as we were hanging out in the cafeteria, the three girls spotted some African American guys they wanted to chat with. One girl turned to the others and said, "Should we take snow bunny with us?" Gestured at me and laughed. Ironically, this girl's mother was white. I remained friends with one of the girls but separated from the rest and searched for new friends. I finally found a good group, almost all of whom came from mixed ethnicity backgrounds and had gone to international schools their whole life. A semester later, I decided to matriculate as a full time student and began apartment hunting.
When I finally found an apartment that would accept a foreign tenant, my agent scheduled a meeting with my landlord. Before going, I put on a conservative outfit, took the cross off my neck and bought thick foundation to cover the tattoo on my foot. I desperately tried to eliminate anything that he could possibly judge me by. While in the lift, my agent turned to me and said, with no more hesitation than you would say your own name, "Please say this to your landlord [Japanese phrase]. It means, "I am a good foreigner."" When we arrived at my landlord's apartment, his wife answered the door. Before letting us in some chatter went back and forth between her and my agent. They were discussing, of all things, whether or not a foreigner like me would be able to understand the extremely complicated garbage system in Japan (despite the highly detailed, colour coded, English translation they give you prior to moving in). To make matters worse, when we were finally allowed into the apartment, my landlord gave me a long lecture concerning his complex views of foreigners. By the time his speech was over, I learned that he was a proud racist who really liked Americans but hated Australians, New Zealanders, and a few others I can't remember. He never said why.
In the four years I lived there, I dealt with the many nuances of Japanese life that kept foreigners from being viewed as equal. There were protests and rallies for limiting our rights. More than once a complete stranger cursed me out for being a foreigner. My Japanese textbook featured a skit of a foreigner getting refused service by a real estate agent solely because of their nationality. Japan was such a big part of my childhood but as an adult, I felt more and more that I was unwanted. It was as if a part of my identity was being torn from me.

Showing multinational pride!
After graduating university and spending some time in Hong Kong with my parents, I moved to India to return to a children's home I had volunteered with in the summer of 2008 and 2009. India is where I'm writing you from today. The racism is slightly better here. I'm thankful that I'm not Irani, a population the Indians trust even less than the average foreigner. But the judgement is still there - I'm white and white women are lose. We live apart from our families so naturally, we are not at all close to them. My pleas for them to understand that I speak to my parents everyday and that my cousins are like my brothers and sisters are either met with shock or a polite nod, partnered with a half smile.
It's a bizarre twist of the TCK life that the racism experienced overseas will never make you feel quite as lonely as not fitting in in your supposed home country. For me, growing up as a white TCK, no matter how long I dealt with the discrimination, I always held out hope for people to see me like I see myself - no race, no accent, no nationality. In September, I'll be moving to London for my Master's. I'm not sure how I will handle being around that many white people, especially English speaking ones. But I still hold out hope; hope that one day, I'll meet someone who sees me for who I truly am: Not simply an American, or white, or foreign, but Dutch, Singaporean, Japanese, Hong Kong Chinese and Indian. A TCK.

Quite possibly the cutest picture of a person on a yak ever.
If you enjoyed this guest post, please show Erin some love by leaving comments! And if you want to read about another TCK, here is a link to a guest post by my lovely friend Tara who I know from Chennai: Tara in Thailand
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  • Guest
    Alaine Handa Monday, 23 September 2013

    I can definitely relate to this. I'm feeling l...

    I can definitely relate to this. I'm feeling lost when my skin color/race is the majority. I love cities that are extremely multicultural and diverse. I feel at ease. There is so much racism in this world of varying degrees that it makes me incredibly sad. I hope you're exploring London quite a bit. Visited this past summer and loved it! (except for how expensive it is!)

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Guest Sunday, 22 July 2018
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