Tayo Rockson: Can you map out your third culture/ nomadic experience and tell us why you moved so much?
Mishell Hernandez: I call this ‘my trail’. I was born in Moscow of 1991. My mother is Mongolian and my father is Mexican. My parents weren’t diplomats or in the military, but were international students in Russia. By the time I was 6, I had already lived bits and pieces in Mongolia, Mexico, and Russia, under the care of different relatives Mexican or Mongolian. I find it funny that there were a few times my relatives and I couldn’t speak the same language, but I eventually retained the Mongolian and Spanish. My mother and I finally moved to Mexico for good when I was 7 and it was from there that we learned to speak a mixture of my mother tongues. Then we made another ‘final’ move to the United States where we stayed for a while and became Americans, and now we speak a mixture of Mongolian, Spanish, and English. We’ve adopted traits and mannerisms from each culture and wouldn’t have it any other way.
TR: Where is home for you?
MH: Home is where the love is.
Growing up I’ve felt love from my family in different places in the world, and I believe that with love comes the sense of belonging. Because of this I do not have a single home. I love the streets of Mt Pleasant and Columbia Heights in Washington DC where I grew up. I love memories of the trips to the Mongolian summerhouse with my family, looking for wild strawberries in the woods. I love the Mexican home my abuelitos raised me in and the smell of the dirt, and the rain of the fields. The bits and pieces that make up my indelible memories of love are home to me, and never a single physical place or country.
TR: Favorite country you enjoyed living in the most and why?
MH: I’ve enjoyed living in all the countries, and all for different reasons. This affinity ‘for all’ may be hard to comprehend for some but is completely valid and true for me.
TR: How do you think TCK will influence the world in the future especially with globalization in general?
MH: I think TCKs are raised in such a way that we can bring together people with different backgrounds and persuasions together. We can observe the differences between people, but capitalize on the similarities.
TCKs in this globalizing society can grow to become influential opinion leaders who can push the world toward more compassion and understanding. TCKs are equipped with unique perspectives into people, and cultures, and while one doesn’t have to be a TCK to have these perspectives or want to do noble things, people raised with a ‘third culture’ experience, I think, have a natural leaning toward these.
The fact TCKs come in different shapes, sizes, and colors means that TCKs cannot be stereotyped in a consistent way. We can pass as something to communicate valuable ideas from one group to another that could perhaps not be convincingly interpreted without a TCKs unique perspective. We are cultural brokers in a sense- never belonging to a group, and always in between carrying messages. This can have a noble impact in the world if we try.
TR: When did you realize that you were multicultural?
MH: I most strongly realized my multiculturalism when I was in primary school in Mexico. I was playing hide and seek with my friends, when it was my turn to ‘seek’. I began counting in Spanish loudly and then switched to Mongolian (still loudly). I realized I had done it and I was happy because I thought the code switching was okay, but my friends were confused. I even remember one girl being particularly annoyed with me for ruining the game. It was one of many times I was reminded of my ‘awkward’ predicament; that there wasn’t (yet) a place for my biculturalism, and that I had to blend in to be understood.
TR: When did you get to the point where you became comfortable with who you are?
MH: To be honest, I’ve only started to get comfortable with who I am, a TCK and everything it entails, since last year.
Being the first mixed child in both sides of the family put me in a domestic context in both environments and so my contact with international people like myself were very limited. Though I was always allured by anyone who had an open mind and was multilingual, I didn’t know there was legitimate reason for the attraction.
I began to struggle with self-esteem during my teenage years because my feelings of displacement could not be validated by anyone in my vicinity. It didn’t help that my dread was shrugged off as simple teenage angst. I learned to depend on myself and soon enough began to pay more attention to my own interests like that of international communication. I eventually came across the term ‘third culture kid’ and my life just clicked into place. I felt like I was stumbling in the dark until then. These days I am more and more comfortable with who I am. It’s awesome.
TR: What is one piece of advice you can give to TCKs?
MH: To embrace it because your experiences are valid.
TR: How do you connect with people when you are abroad?
MH: When I’m abroad, I connect with others by being open to new experiences. I get very excited and bubbly about it. I do not mind stepping out of my comfort zone to try something new and I think my friends abroad like that. I love learning about their language and customs, and finding out ways in which we are the similar and different.
TR: What is the best thing about being a TCK?
MH: The best thing about being a TCK is seeing the way in which people are essentially the same. We all need to be loved; we all need to be validated. We all have our prerogatives. I think the desire ‘one world’ is born in TCKs much, much sooner. I’d be curious to know how many TCKs have been told by their peers that they are mature beyond their years.
When I was in middle school I came across a scene from The Merchant of Venice film, with Al Pacino that deeply resonated with me:
“...I am a Jew. Hath
not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs,
dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with
the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject
to the same diseases, healed by the same means,
warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as
a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?
if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison
us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not
revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will
resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian,
what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian
wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by
Christian example? Why, revenge…”
The idea that we are not different but fundamentally the same just arrested me body and soul. I decided that if I didn’t know myself, then at least I knew that we are a reflection of one another. The sooner we realize this as a whole then maybe, just maybe, the world will be a more enjoyable place to live.
On a simpler note, the best thing about being a TCK is being to love and appreciate all cultures, and all people, no matter how different.
TR: What is the worst thing about being a TCK?
MH: I can only speak for myself and I am curious to know if other TCKs agree with me.
The worst thing about being a biracial TCK is not being a full anything. I feel frustrated with being biracial when I am reminded I am not a full Mexican, or full Mongolian. Then adding American into the mix makes things even more interesting. My memories, thoughts and reasoning, and tongue are tinted with knowledge of Mexican, Mongolian, and American contexts, nuances, feelings.
At times, it feels as though I am pulled in different directions, which sometimes causes a tempest inside of me. I’d say that growing older has helped me get a better grip on things though. The struggle has made me appreciate the things that make a person feel whole- like time with family, laughing, and enjoying good food. If unimaginable confusion is how I had to learn this, then so be it.
TR: Tell us about your blog & writing.
MH: I write about my insight into my insights into the third culture experience, my life, and creative endeavors.
TR: How do you use your difference to make a difference?
MH: I think some types of people fear that mixed children, and cross-cultural children, can be a threat to national identity. Though I can see where they are coming from, I do not agree. I think third culture kids have the uncanny ability to appreciate ‘both’ and ‘all’. I am as Mexican as I am Mongolian as I am American. I love the country, the culture, and the language of each, and because of this affinity for all countries around the world I cannot (consciously) judge what I do not know.
By being who I am, I do my best to be an advocate for finding ways to unify people, and not divide. I am against any type of bullying, racism, shaming, etc. I strongly believe we should always look for the human factor, even if it challenges what we’ve been taught.
TR: Where can we find out more about you and what are you up to?
MH: My blog is at www.mishellhmm.wordpress.com and Twitter: @mishellhmm