20 April 2015

How Hawaii Locals Are (and Are Not) Like TCKs

Growing up in Hawaii is surreal; however, we who spend our childhoods there usually don't realize it until we've sampled another part of the world. Before that, palm trees are like light poles to us. They're everywhere, but we're used to seeing them and don't even notice they're there.

So it was a wakeup call to me when my dreamlike childhood setting was repeatedly likened to another people group's: TCKs.

We are like each other, yet we are unique.



Still, the similarities are enough to draw some helpful conclusions (given at the end). Before getting started on the "same-same"s, here are simple definitions for each people group:

Locals: Those who have grown up in Hawaii (but are not necessarily of Hawaiian ancestry), also known as "kamaʻāina"

TCKs (third culture kids): Those who have grown up in a different culture than their parents', their citizenship, and/or their ethnicity (Go here for a more thorough definition.)

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Here are 4 ways we are similar:
1. Our stories sound larger-than-life.
"You grew up in Hawaii? WOW!"
"You grew up in Shanghai? WOW!"

2. We experience many cultures.
The population in Hawaii is a mass mix of Pacific Islanders, Asians, and Caucasians (among other smaller groups). As a child, most of my friends were Japanese. My own family is both haole (white) and Filipino. We had Hawaiian culture all around us plus festivals that celebrated foreign cultures with much hurrah.

Even our genetic makeup says "multicultural." Almost everyone I knew in high school boasted more than one "nationality" (as we called it). I claimed two, but most of my friends had four or more--and were very proud of it, calling themselves "mixed plate."

TCKs also live in a blend of cultures: their passport country, their host country, their parents' cultures, and all their friends' cultures too. It's also common that they have two cultures represented in their homes--their parents having a biracial and/or cross-cultural marriage.

3. We are good at guessing interpretations of foreign languages.
Because Hawaii has so many cultures, there are a lot of languages. The local dialect is "Hawaiian Creole English," also known as pidgin, which is a combination of the various languages spoken by workers on the sugar plantations with their English-speaking overseers. This sampling gives us an advantage at understanding other languages.

from the local "dictionary" Pidgin To Da Max
Also, many of us have parents or grandparents who speak another language fluently. My grandparents would talk to us in Ilocano, and we would answer in English. Not until much later did I realize how this taught me to guess well with other languages like Arabic, Thai, and Korean.

TCKs almost always know multiple languages. But on top of that, they also can decipher what others are saying even when the language is foreign. This comes from years of immersion, of being surrounded by unknown dialogue and figuring out things without straight-up asking for interpretations.

4. We formed our own subculture. 
Just like with language, the cultures in Hawaii blended after immigrant workers poured in, mainly from Asia. The local culture now is not fully Hawaiian nor is it fully Asian or American. It is an artistic and delicious mix--a culture that deserves its own title but, for now, goes by "local." So a Chinese-Filipino-haole will identify with a Korean-Japanese-Hawaiian because the subculture is the same.

In a similar way, a TCK from Hong Kong will identify with a TCK from Uganda. Even though their experiences are very different, the multiculturalism unifies them. The struggles and bonuses of living abroad give them common ground.


But there is one major difference between locals from Hawaii and TCKs:

TCKs are mobile. Locals are stationary.
And this creates some serious variations. 

Locals do not typically experience the childhood grief of moving away from familiarity. We have security in our "home"--both an address and a family hub. We have predictability.

TCKs are nomadic and therefore understand relationship depth, global problems, and how to navigate an airport (and a foreign country) better than any other children in the world. They have flexibility.


Now, this is more a definitive post than a prescriptive one. Still, there are a few conclusions I've drawn from comparing these two people groups. And, as you know, I'm in the first grouping, so I tend to wag my finger back at myself.

For Locals:
Yes, we grew up in arguably the most perfect place on earth, but that doesn't make us perfect people. In fact, it actually tempts us to be spoiled people, shrinking the globe to our island chain. If we're not intentional about learning, we can instead be ignorant and devoid of powerful attributes (because we don't need them in Hawaii): adaptability, a broad worldview, even appreciation for cultural tolerance. We can learn something from third culture kids: Having gone out into the world, they know the intensity of belonging and the difficulty of diversity. For us locals, the world was brought to us, so we may take these important things for granted. So befriend TCKs: we are "same same but different." They can teach us flexibility, courage, and depth. And travel because there is more to the world than has been sampled in our state.

For TCKs:
Yes, you are categorized because of a nomadic childhood you did not choose yourself. Yes, you may feel like you don't belong anywhere or can't identify with monocultural peers. Yes, "where are you from?" is an essay question instead of fill-in-the-blank. Nonetheless, you do not need to roam forever assuming the world lacks a place fit for multicultural people. I'm sure there are other places too, but I can speak for Hawaii. Visit. And realize that your childhood of diversity, language, and subculture are, in some ways, like the locals' there. And maybe the predictability we prize will rub off on you--giving you unmoving ground to stand on and view diversity as a stationary culture . . . in which you can belong.

For others:
If you read this post but did not identify with either of these groups, I hope you still picked up something valuable. Multiculturalism can both expand and limit. For both locals and TCKs, it is the basis of their respective subcultures, but the resulting worldviews are different. So you, who are probably monocultural, should also consider how your childhood affects your global perspective--and do not blame ignorance when learning is always available. Use the Internet, go to the library, and get to know kamaʻāina and third culture kids--they can tell you what it's like to grow up immersed in a cultural mosaic that boasts of God's creativity. 

Abide in Him,






Are you from Hawaii? Are you a TCK? What would you add to the similarities or differences?

Related articles you may also appreciate:
Missionaries Must Come Like Family Not Tourists
Defining Home and Heaven
People Are People Everywhere
True Cultural Pride (taught by the Thai people)

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