Self is Other
Third culture. To me, the phrase conjures up images of mould growing in Petrie dishes. The third generation of such a mould, perhaps, carefully reared in a sterile laboratory environment. Someone once told me that the phrase third culture referred to children such as myself. Children of twentieth century migrants, children who belonged neither to the culture of their parents, nor the culture of their host land. People like myself who created a new, hybrid third culture, a marriage of the heritage of our parents with the culture of our adopted homeland. But what happens when you have not one adopted homeland but two or three?
I was raised on four continents. I came of age four different times in four different lands. My life began on the Dark Continent, and the sun and the sand of Africa sear through my veins. I was a child and then a teenager in both the warmest and coldest of lands, both literally and emotionally speaking. And now I live in one of the Promised lands, across the oceans, the farthest away from my birthplace.
I find my composite culture to be both a blessing and a curse. My appearance is ethnic-identity-unknown, my facial characteristics and body type only identify me when gazed upon with a knowing eye. I have the luxury of presenting myself as belonging to a number of cultures, some of which I have legitimate claim to, some I don’t.
My portrayals of persona depend on my mood of the day - from demure Arab to flamboyant ghetto princess. From the code of the desert to the law of the streets. African Queen. Buppy (yuppy? guppy?). Nubian princess. Daughter of the desert. StrongBlackWoman. Most days, I scoff at these labels. Other days, I feel trapped in their limitations.
The antonym of self is Other.
Nehal El-Hadi is a writer and cultural producer. Born in Sudan, she has lived and studied in the United Kingdom, Sudan, and Oman. Nehal is currently based in Toronto, and her work explores the intersections of culture, identity, urban spaces, and environment.
This piece was originally published at iamnehal.com.