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The Colorado on the Tibetan Plateau: the identity in a cross-cultural family

The culture and identity of intercultural families has always been a topic of concern to LECPA. The causes of cross-cultural families can be divided into two categories: the first category is formed when there is family relocation or change in the regime, placing the entire family into a different cultural context subjected to external influence.

Carlos (the second generation Filipino immigrant who is born and raised in Macao), whom we interviewed in February (as mentioned in our previous article), is one of the examples, Whereas, the second category of cross-cultural family is formed by the internal members through approaches such as marriage, cohabitation, adoption. I will discuss with you the identity problem that exists in this category of cross-cultural family through sharing this interesting incident I witnessed in mainland China with you.

The Han Chinese driver drove the guests to a famous original ecological homestay in the Tibetan Autonomous Region. The homestay was run by a couple: the husband is a Tibetan, and the wife is an American who immigrated here years ago. The guests wanted to explore this hidden beauty of nature, seeing the grasslands and snow-capped mountains up close, so the group traveled long distances to get here.

A Tibetan went out to greet the group, and the driver shouted excitedly, "Isn't there an American here? Is she home? I want to see her! Tell her to come out!" Then, Angela, the hostess of the homestay, shouted from the second floor: "There is none! Go Away!" The fellow guests were embarrassed, so they stepped forward to explain their intentions, and apologized for the driver's rudeness to Angela. To that, Angela said, "Okay, it's fine. It's just that he's being rude. I understand them, but that doesn't mean I have to put up with it. Come and take a sip of coffee.”

When the group were sitting at the garden of the homestay, Angela came to talk to the driver in fluent Mandarin, “You have to pay me some respect. I am also a human-being, not a thing that you can come and see as you wish. I have been living here for two decades. I speak both Han Chinese and Tibetan language. For my years spent here, I have seen myself as a local already.” Angela’s speech made me understand her self-identity as a “local” for the first time.

A cross-cultural family as Angela’s usually originates from a romantic love story across borders. Besides the sparks of love, Angela and her husband had to face the sparks of conflict because of cultural inclusion and exclusion as well. For Angela, as an American, she had to adapt to at least two culture and language shocks, including learning Han Chinese and Tibetan language, blending in with the Tibetan culture, and understanding Chinese social culture because of the policy of Sinicization of Tibetan areas; for Angela’s husband, Djarga, as a Tibetan, he had to understand the Western culture and values of Angela, which undoubtedly was a great shock to him who was born and raised in a remote region of China.

If marriage requires compromise in the first place, the compromise required by this kind of cross-cultural marriage must be magnified by multiples, and it especially needs the acceptance from the bottom of the heart. Communication is essential in marriage, but the communication of cross-cultural families is also accompanied by heavy language barriers. Thus, developing a common identity and a mutual language becomes the cornerstone of these families.

Although Angela has lived here for 21 years and established a family with the locals, many people, except those who know her, still regard her as a foreigner and can't help but stare at her. When asked about her identity, Angela cheerfully said she didn't think much of it. Although her living habits are no different from ordinary Tibetan women - repairing farmhouses, drinking yak milk, and eating highland barley bread - she has never felt that she is a Tibetan, nor has she acquired Chinese identity. She is convinced that she belongs to the community of Gulong Village, and the advantage of being in such a small place is that everyone is an independent individual and is not limited by the identity of the social system. The Tibetan husband who lives in the same family and the daughter who is now studying in the United States also have different views on their own identities. However, just as other families on the grassland, what holds their family together is their mutual language for communication and their sense of identity as being part of the family.

Angela also has made good use of her own cultural background and language. Since 2001, she and her husband have not only run an original ecological homestay, but also found volunteers from all over the world on the Internet by using her knowledge and experience growing up in the United States. She found volunteers to help the local Tibetans build a modern renewable energy system, solving the various living problems brought about by the increasing urbanization of the local area, so that they can continue to live in this pure land that has been passed down from generation to generation.

At the end of the day, I sincerely hope that cross-cultural families around the world can learn to bridge the cultural and language barriers among each other like Angela’s family, and create a better life together through complementary advantages.

Author: Victoria, translated by Alicia

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