Life in Motion

An Orphan Amongts Cultural Tribes (the 1.5 Child)

Note : The picture above is completely unrelated to the topic. But regardless, this beautiful skyline was taken over Seattle, on a flight heading to Columbus,OH.

This month marks my 8th year living in the United States. It's amazing to think that I have been here for almost a decade - my memories of leaving my beloved buzzing city of Jakarta seem so fresh in my mind. With graduation lurking around the corner, I have taken some time to reflect through the things that I have gone through as an immigrant child.

I was born in Jakarta, Indonesia, where I spent most of my first 13 years of life. I came to the United States with my family during what in retrospect seems like the worst time to move to America : the 2008 financial crisis.

My adjustment to the culture in the US was rough because I found that I do not fit most of the descriptions of cultural groups in America. I am not well versed enough in football tailgating to be considered an American, but my friends back home see me as being too liberal and open minded to be a part of the extremely conservative Indonesian group. I am a minority in the US, but also a minority at home due to my Chinese-Indonesian heritage (Chinese Indonesians are a minority in Indonesia, Wikipedia describes it as the 5-6% of the total 250 Million people in Indonesia). Some people in my generation view themselves as an ABI (American Born Indonesian), but I was not born here so that category is definitely out the window. I never feel natural hanging out with any one group; I'm not a full American, not a full Indonesian, and most definitely not a full ABI. I am currently in a Graduate program where 50% of the students are americans, and the other 50% are internationals that came straight from their country to the US. The international students see me as "too american" because I have no asian accents, but the Americans consider me too asian because I never like hanging out at bars and would much prefer drinking bubble tea on the weekends. 

It is easy for me to feel like I'm incapable of fitting in anywhere. Maybe the best way to describe me would be: an orphan amongst the cultural tribes in America. If this is your first time hearing a story like this or meeting a person like me, that's totally understandable. We're very good at being chameleons; adapting to the group that we are hanging out with within the span of one micro second. You won't even notice that we weren't born in the US. We'll be able to speak English just as fluently as anyone else, and we'll have already adapted to the American fashion sense.

 For those who are in the same boat as me, you know that the struggle is real. How do you stay true to your cultural roots, while immersing yourself fully in the American experience and dream? Which traditions should you carry forward and which should you keep?

The goal of this post is to raise awareness of another yet cultural subsection in the US population. Not all Asians are the same. That's OK if you didn't know that before reading this post. I totally thought all white people were the same too (of course they're not!!) , so we're even here! So how do you even begin to identify orphans like me, and distinguish them from other Asians in the US population? Here are some of the major characteristics that you might identify:

1. They struggle to answer when people ask them where "Home" is. I mean, I go back and forth between Indonesia and the US every year, so does that mean I have two homes?

2. They are pretty much fluent in two languages. This is when filling in applications that require them to list their primary language becomes a real struggle. When they call their parents, they suddenly speak an alien language that you didn't even know existed before.

3. They have two groups of friends in the US. Hosting events is always a struggle mixing the two groups together is just awkward. Usually the two groups consist of a group of local American friends, and a group of friends from their own country who were either born in the US or came to the US to study.

4. They don't know where they want to settle. Chances are they are torn between the comfort and stability that America offers, and between making a change and giving back to their country.

I love it when I meet people with similar backgrounds. We instantly connect because we understand how hard it is to explain our culture to other people. Recently I was given an article by my best friend about being a 1.5 generation immigrant (read here ). Reading this article makes me feel less alone, I feel like there are other people who are just like me. I love the quote that says:

"Many of the 1.5ers I interviewed said they suffered low self-esteem from grappling with their confusing cultural identity when they were younger. But now, as adults, they concentrate less on how being a 1.5er creates problems and more on its benefits."

I am learning daily to embrace the being that I am, to embrace my roots, my culture and the whole person that I have become. The fact that I don't fit in one of the checkboxes in an application does not diminish my story; rather it makes me unique. 

"Being a 1.5 generation immigrant means that you can either choose to be an outsider everywhere, or you can decide to fit in with multiple groups and learn to rotate in and out."

I now realize that being a 1.5 child enables me to be a bridge between cultures. I will utilize that. I will use it for the good of the people around me. Let's turn our half empty glass to a half full one!

Your 1.5 Child,



Michelle SanchieComment