Sing to the Lord, All the Earth

Sing to the Lord a new song;
    sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
    proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
    his marvelous deeds among all peoples. (Psalm 96:1-3 NIV)

[photo: “Vedere i campi di lavanda,” by Adamo George, used under a Creative Commons license]

Imposter Syndrome and the Cross-cultural Worker [–at A Life Overseas]

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When I was a young elementary-school student, one of the highlights of my year was going to the store with a teacher-mandated list in hand to buy classroom supplies. Not only was there the possibilities inherent in blank tablets of paper, there was the just-oozing-with-creativity box of brand new Crayola Crayons. Not off-brand crayons, mind you, not last year’s crayons (with black nowhere to be found). No, I’m talking about the real deal, with sharp edges and their paper sleeves still crisply intact.

Every child is a budding Rembrandt when in possession of a new box of crayons (even if it’s not the coveted box of 120 with the built-in sharpener).

Those days are long gone for me. Now it’s more about digging into an old ice-cream bucket of crayons, many of them broken or missing their names. But, in spite of that, coloring is something I can still do.

For example, there was the time when we returned from the field and we were handed crayons and asked to draw a picture of what reentry looked like to us. My drawing was of me leading a group of other stick figures (my family) on an unfinished bridge over choppy water. One fellow returnee’s picture was of him pushing with much effort against an immovable stone wall. It was a great activity, as our pictures led to meaningful discussions about the transitions we were in.

Drawing can be good therapy, and cross-cultural workers aren’t the only ones who know that to be true.

In Inside Higher Ed, Irina Popescu writes about a drawing exercise that she gives to her college students on the first day of class. She asks them to draw a picture of their “imposter monster,” the ugly creature that tells them they don’t belong in college, that “lies in judgment,” reminding them that they’re not enough. When she first tried this, she was surprised at how seriously the students took the exercise, creating “careful representations of very real, frightening monsters.”

“Some monsters had three eyes,” she writes. “Others were family members whom students made into red-eyed ghosts. Others were ugly self-portraits of the students themselves.”

Imposter syndrome is alive and well in academe. It is alive and well among cross-cultural workers, too.

The rest of this post is at A Life Overseas. . . .

[photo: “crayons,” by Matt Wengerd, used under a Creative Commons license]

Waves, 2, 3, 4

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[from Czechoslovakia]

“The Revolutionary Boat Powered by the Ocean”

A new design of ship in the Philippines is hoping to pose a low-carbon alternative to the country’s usual bangka [a trimaran with bamboo outriggers either side of its main hull], by working with the power of waves rather than against them. The ship is a hybrid model, using multiple internal combustion engines for initial propulsion but switching to wave energy while cruising in open waters.

. . . . .

The hybrid trimaran has this machinery – a wave energy converter – in the form of hydraulic pumps integrated into its outriggers. As the pumps move through the waves, they harvest the momentum of these waves, converting their kinetic energy into electrical energy, which will then be fed into a generator that will supply electricity to the ship. The electricity then provides propulsion via a motor. The more waves the trimaran encounters, the more power it can produce from those waves.

. . . . .

[T]he team is aiming to finish building the ship by the end of 2020, with a three-month sea trial scheduled for the first quarter of 2021. The vessel is expected to be capable of carrying 100 passengers, four vans and 15 motorcycles.

Rina Diane Caballar, BBC, July 15, 2020

Coming or Going during Turbulent Times [—at A Life Overseas]

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In October of 2001, my wife and I boarded a flight and moved our family from the US to our new home in Asia. Nearly ten years later, in June of 2011, we moved back to our old home in Joplin, Missouri. Those dates may not jump out at you, but the first was one month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The second was one month after an F5 tornado destroyed about a quarter of Joplin, killing 161.

When you relocate to a different culture, your world is turned upside down. How much more so when the earth itself seems to be tilted off its axis.

Some of you are making a cross-cultural transition right now, in the midst of a global pandemic, a global recession, and far-reaching upheavals confronting racism. So much emotional multitasking. So many unknowns. You’re not only tackling culture stress or reverse culture stress, but you’re trying to get used to a new normal when the old normal is challenging enough already.

There’s another term for new normal. It’s abnormal (at least for a while).

Speaking of culture, you have your own “cancel culture”: cancelled flights. cancelled church services, cancelled good-bye gatherings, cancelled welcome parties, cancelled support, cancelled camps, cancelled vacations, cancelled retreats, cancelled trainings, cancelled conferences, cancelled debriefings, cancelled classes, cancelled job opportunities, cancelled leases, cancelled assumptions, cancelled plans.

And when you get to make your trip, your first experience after you land is to self-quarantine for two weeks.

To read the rest, go to A Life Overseas. . . .

[photo: “Storm Front 4,” by mrpbps, used under a Creative Commons license]

Langston Hughes: Harlem Ambassador, Dreamer, Joplin Son

32558167790_1a45c00065_cEvery day on my way to work, I drive through the East Town neighborhood of Joplin, Missouri, down a street with the dual name Langston Hughes Avenue and Broadway Street. Part of the old Route 66, it used to be called simply Broadway, but in 1976, the city renamed a portion of it as a tribute to the African-American writer and activist born James Mercer Langston Hughes.

Langston Hughes was the son of Carrie Mercer Langston Hughes and James Hughes, was born in East Town Joplin, in 1901. Not long after his birth, his father left the US, moving to Mexico, and his mother took him to live in Kansas, with him growing up in Lawrence, Topeka, and Kansas City.

If they had not left earlier, Hughes and his mother may well have decided to quit Joplin in 1903, following the lynching of Thomas Gilyard, a black man accused of killing a Joplin police officer in the rail yards just north of Broadway. Not satisfied with the death of Gilyard, a mob of white Joplinites surged through town burning the homes of black residents, causing many African Americans to flee the city. According to Kimberly Harper, in White Man’s Heaven, of the 700 blacks living in Joplin at the time, at least 200 planned to move elsewhere and not come back. Lynching would later become a theme in Hughes’s poetry.

Hughes lived a mobile life and was an international traveler. As a young adult, he relocated to Mexico to be with his father, and then worked aboard a ship that took him to West Africa and Europe, ending up in Paris for a time. His travels also took him to Cuba and Haiti, and to Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War as a reporter. Then, in the 1930s, after he had established himself as a writer, he went to the Soviet Union to make a movie about the black experience in the American south. But the movie never developed and he moved on to China, Korea, and Japan. His travels, as well as some of this writings, earned him a call in 1953 to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Some twenty years later, accusations of him being a Communist resurfaced in Joplin during the debate to rename Broadway.

While Hughes’s cinematic plans didn’t come to fruition, he found global success through his writing in a number of genres, including short stories, novels, news articles, non-fiction, and plays. It was through poetry, though, that he is most well known. And while he was born in Joplin, his most famous residence was Harlem, where he laid the groundwork for his inclusion in the literary and cultural movement that came to be called the Harlem Renaissance.

Hughes influenced the civil rights movement, as well. According to W. Jason Miller, professor at North Carolina State University and author of Origins of the Dream, Hughes’s poetry was the inspiration behind Martin Luther King, Jr.’s usage of a dream motif, most famously apparent in his “I Have a Dream” speech.

One example comes from his 1951 poem “Harlem” (or “Dream Deferred”), where Hughes asks,

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?

In 1959, Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun, which took its name from Hughes’s poem, opened on Broadway (the area in Manhattan, not the Joplin street). “Harlem” was included in an insert in the show’s playbill, and following A Raisin in the Sun‘s premier, King wrote to Hughes, “I can no longer count the number of times and places . . . in which I have read your poems.”

On my twice-daily workday trip in Joplin, I drive past banners on the light poles that read “Dreams—East Town,” with the added tags “heritage,” “tradition,” “connection,” and “community.” And on what used to be Earl Smith’s grocery store at the corner of Langston Hughes-Broadway and Mineral Street, there’s a mural that was painted in 2016. The mural was a community project, with hundreds, including my son and daughter-in-law, participating in its design and painting.

Titled “Belonging to All the Hands Who Build,” the mural pays tribute to East Town’s history. And the name pays tribute to Langston Hughes’s poem “Freedom’s Plow,” which includes these lines about dreaming, and creating, together:

Thus the dream becomes not one man’s dream alone,
But a community dream.
Not my dream alone, but our dream.
Not my world alone,
But your world and my world,
Belonging to all the hands who build.

Kimberly Harper, White Man’s Heaven: The Lynching and Expulsion of Blacks in the Southern Ozarks, 1894-1909, The University of Arkansas Press, 2010; W. Jason Miller, Origins of the Dream: Hughes’s Poetry and King’s Rhetoric, University Press of Florida, 2015

[photo: “Langston Hughes, author,” by Gordon Parks/Library of Congress, used under a Creative Commons license/cropped]

This TCK’s Journey Led Her to Your TV Screen: An Interview with Actress Elizabeth Liang

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Growing up in Taipei didn’t give my daughter much exposure to colleges in the States, so when she got older and came across the WB series Felicity on DVD, she was excited to find a tutorial on the college experience. Since then, she’s become a university student herself and has learned that real college life contains a lot more schoolwork and a lot less draaaaaama than Keri Russell’s version. But Felicity still holds a special place in her DVD collection, and in her Third Culture Kid heart.

When I told my daughter I was reviewing Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang’s solo show about being a TCK, Alien Citizen, and that Lisa had appeared in season two of Felicity, she was impressed.

Yes, Felicity gave Lisa her first TV role, in 2000, but it was far from her last. Since then she’s appeared in a number of television shows, as well as movies and stage productions. Most recently, her TV credits have included Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Schooled, Bob Hearts Abishola, Big Little Lies, and Fresh off the Boat. (Want to see a sampling of her on the small screen? She’s Margo in the Brooklyn Nine-Nine clip at the end of this post.)

As I wrote about in my review, Lisa has a lot of cultures packed into her life. She’s the daughter of an American mother of European descent and a Guatemalan father of Chinese-Spanish descent, and she grew up in Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, Morocco, Egypt, and the US.

After watching Lisa in Alien Citizen—and on TV—I wanted to find out how being a TCK affected her development as an actress, so I asked her a few questions. Thanks, Lisa, for the conversation:

In Alien Citizen, you say, “In the theater everybody’s weird. We use our imaginations to create a world that we step into together, kind of like being dropped into one that you have to adapt to.” Tell us what led you to acting and explain more how the stage become a refuge for you as a TCK.

My mom is an actress and had worked both Screen Shot 2020-05-19 at 9.02.35 AMprofessionally and in community theatre since before I was born, so the smell of theatres and the excitement of the creative process were a “home” to me from a young age. I started acting at school and in community theatre as a kid in Panama, and my love for it only grew as I grew up.

The stage became my refuge as a TCK because it allowed me to express all the facets of my personality, as well as all the facets I dared not explore in real life, without argument. The audience might like or dislike my work, but for two to three hours on stage no one could interrupt me to argue with or dismiss my experience. I wasn’t being a bad guest, nor was I losing the possibility of making or keeping friends, when I portrayed a character on stage . . . even if she was angry or rude or rebellious, or vulnerable or scared. It was a great release.

To quote an essay I wrote for the anthology Writing Out of Limbo, “I also became an actress because the lifestyle bears a resemblance to the TCK lifestyle, with added perks: the immediate family of casts and crews, the insulated world of the play or film, the inherent loss of one another at the end of a project. Actors have no choice but to live in the moment when we are acting, just as we lived in the moment as kids when we experienced a new school, a new airport, a new language for the first time. There was only the here and now, and however frightening it might have been at times, it was also exciting. Based on this, one might expect all actors to have had mobile childhoods. Many have.”

Probably the most famous TCK among actors is Mark Hamill of Star Wars, but there are plenty of others: Julianne Moore, Viggo Mortensen, Kathleen Turner, and many more.

“One might expect all actors to have had mobile childhoods.” I can’t help but think about the converse of this phrase: “One might expect all who have had mobile childhoods to be actors.” How has your experience as a “cultural chameleon,” playing new parts in new locations, influenced your ability to inhabit new characters?

My experience as a TCK gave me extra skill at playing characters with regional and international accents or dialects. I’ve played everything from a Cuban lawyer to a Japanese mother to a French maid to a Cockney convict and more, and I’m very grateful that my upbringing made those roles possible for me to play convincingly. Many were “open casting,” racially speaking (I was an actress of color playing roles originally written as white), so I had to convince the audience with my accent and behavior that the character was embodied in me. I’m proud to say it worked.

Being a TCK also taught me to show automatic respect to cultures of which I’m not a member. So when I’m playing a character from a country I’ve never been to, I avoid stereotypes and do a lot of research on that country and the region the character is from. I look for the recognizable and relatable behavior that will make the role seem true as a human being and as a member of that culture and not a cartoon.

Finally, diving into a new role is very much like moving to a new country: there’s excitement, thrill, terror, and dread . . . all at the same time. With every role, as with every country, like every actor I know, I ask myself, “How am I going to do this?!?”

Your SAG-AFTRA resume says that you can portray 24 ethnicities. That’s quite a range. Can you share about any particular role that stretched you or that taught you something you didn’t know before about a place or culture?

One role that required a lot from me was Matilde in Sarah Ruhl’s wonderful play The Clean House. Matilde is a Brazilian standup comic who has moved to the CT/NY area (I decided it was Fairfield County, CT) and is working as a maid. She hates cleaning and she doesn’t much like the town she’s in, so I deeply understood her. Nevertheless, the role was challenging because I had to learn to speak Portuguese, because Matilde opens the show with a long-form joke in her native language. Since she’s Brazilian, I had to learn a Brazilian accent. I tried for São Paulo and hoped for the best.

I can never fully explain the courage it took to open a show by delivering a long-form joke directly to the audience in a language they and I didn’t speak, while sounding utterly confident and helping them “get” the joke.

My courage as an actor grew a lot during the run of that show.

You act out many characters in Alien Citizen, including your parents. How has creating and performing the play helped you understand what it was like for your mother and father raising TCKs?

Giving myself permission to write about the hard parts of my upbringing, and then include some of them in the final draft, helped me to process those experiences so I could then overwhelmingly see and acknowledge all the good in my TCK life. I had to be honest about the difficulties in my family’s dynamic, and bear witness to some of it in the show, in order to move past that and see how much my parents succeeded as parents and how hard it must have been for them to pick up and move and navigate different cultures over and over while raising two kids. My brother and I knew we were loved, without question, and that’s not always a given in families.

Also, interviewing my folks for a “special feature” in the DVD helped me understand how it was for them. They’re very clear that there was no help or guidance whatsoever from the international schools or my father’s employer regarding the emotional challenges their kids would face. That shocks me to this day. My heart goes out to all the families over decades and centuries who’ve relocated and had to learn how to cope emotionally on their own.

You offer workshops to help others wanting to share their stories in solo shows, personal essays, memoirs, and the like. What would you say to TCKs who would ask, “Why me? Why my story?”

Every human being’s story is part of the great, infinite prism of the human story. We have always relied on stories to help us feel connected, and learn how to behave and how to understand one another. Your story will resonate with people you expect and people you would never expect to relate to any of it. I know this from personal experience.

Ask yourself: What is it costing you not to have your voice, your story, in the world?

And remember: Our stories and our feelings about them matter. Honor them.

[photo: “Television,” by dailyinvention, used under a Creative Commons license]

Share Your Little Vista [—at A Life Overseas]

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Most countries have their majestic views. They’re the sights that populate Google image results and Pinterest collections. I’m thinking Eiffel Towers and Mount Fujis.

In the capital of Taiwan, we could ride the gondola up to the heights of Maokong and gaze at Taipei 101 piercing the skyline  of the city, surrounded by a ring of mountains. Or we could stand at the entrance of Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Park, with its paved square and manicured lawns leading to the majestic bright-white, blue roofed Memorial Hall.

If you visit Taipei, I’d suggest you try to see both of these grand vistas. But living there for a while, I had some little vistas that impacted me more. For instance, there was the view from my favorite seat in a Starbucks deep in the subway system. Through the glass wall in front of me, I could look down a long corridor, lined with shops. The architecture was nondescript, but what impacted me was the constant crowds of people kaleidoscoping by. I spent a lot of time at that vantage point mulling over big decisions.

And there was an ancient tree on a college campus downtown that caught my attention. It was mostly sideways limbs, gnarled and stretching out in all directions. The limbs were so heavy and low that they had to be held up by short concrete pillars so they wouldn’t touch the ground. I admired that tree. It was old and weary but enduring. It was especially picturesque during a rain shower.

What about you, in your host country? Do you have a little vista that brings you joy or peace or hope or inspiration?

Go to A Life Overseas to finish reading this post, and to add your own little vista.

[photo: “Flowerpot of the Roadside by mrhayata, used under a Creative Commons license]

Listening to a Wonderful Immigrant Story in the Walmart Parking Lot while Everybody Was Stocking Up on Bottled Water

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I was sitting in a Walmart parking lot, a few days after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the WHO. It was back when stores weren’t yet limiting the number of shoppers. People were still hoarding toilet paper and making a big deal about how people were hoarding toilet paper, and there wasn’t much of it left in the stores by that time. I had a list in my pocket of things to buy, but I stayed in my car for a while listening to NPR as I watched shoppers file out with their carts piled high with their necessities—bottled water seemed to be a must-have that day. I was in the middle of a Moth Radio Hour and I wanted to hear the end.

The edition playing that day was called “When We Were Young,” and in the second segment, “Sandwiches & Neighbors,” Oanh Ngo Usadi tells about her family of seven leaving Vietnam as refugees when she was twelve. They ended up in Port Arthur, Texas. and she introduces us to their landlords, Mr. Water (not so nice) and Mrs. Water (much nicer). “Water” wasn’t their actually surname, but that’s what Usadi’s family called them. She shares how her father opened a sandwich shop to give McDonald’s “a run for its money” and how they were introduced to the significance of April 1 (the hard way) and how a trip to Costco brought about an unexpected affirmation. And that brings me back to Walmart.

I didn’t have a mask with me, because we weren’t doing that yet, but I had in my head all the reminders to wash my hands and not touch my face. Regardless, I found myself wiping my eyes as Usadi reached the end of her poignant story.

You can listen to the entire episode at The Moth site, and I hope you do. It starts with “Is Love Wild, Is Love Real?” from a man who grew up outside London. His parents were Pakistani Muslims who didn’t believe that love was a useful ingredient in a husband-wife relationship. As he is looking for love anyway, his mother is looking to set him up in an arranged marriage. Enlightenment comes by way of Bruce Springsteen.

And the third, and final, story is “Kid Religion.” In it, the speaker tells about his time as a child in western New York, attending a small Methodist church. His mother, a “labor lawyer from a Catholic Puerto Rican family in the Bronx,” volunteers to teach his Sunday-school class and gets fired for how she answers a question. Years later, after developing a relationship with a girl in a school play, he comes to believe that his mother’s answer was the right one.

If Usadi’s narrative makes you want to hear more about her life, you can read her memoir, Of Monkey Bridges and Bánh Mì Sandwiches: from Sài Gòn to Texas.

[photo: “Walmart,” by Mike Mozart, used under a Creative Commons license]