Issue 13 contributor Adrian Patenaude shares her experience between two different worlds, growing up both in Thailand and Texas.
Putting home into words
By Adrian Patenaude
As a Third Culture Kid, I’ve struggled with my cultural identity for years. I’m a blonde-haired, blue-eyed white girl from Texas but my first memories are of watching dubbed cartoons on TV and eating Kopiko coffee candies with the wrinkly retired schoolteacher who lived next door to us in rural northern Thailand. We were usually the only “farang” family for miles. I didn’t think twice about playing with the other neighborhood kids, but I always stood out for obvious reasons.
When I moved to the States, I blended in physically – a relief for this painfully self-conscious girl – but I didn’t fit in culturally. I was missing years of cultural context. I’ve spent the past eight years trying to catch up, but I’ll never know the 90s nostalgia my peers experience. At one point, I thought maybe I would fit in with Asian Americans, who too straddle Asian and American culture. But I soon learned that theirs is an experience all their own.
So where’s home? What culture can I claim? I can’t say I’m Thai. I’m not. Over time, I’ve learned to downplay my Asian influences for fear of overstepping my bounds as an outsider. And yet I feel more out of place in a room full of white Texans than I do in a village in northern Thailand.
I took a trip to Thailand earlier this year and it brought me the healing I’ve long been needing. As I attempted to photograph all the precious details of my beautiful homeland, I finally found a way to articulate my relationship to Thailand. Although I may not be Thai, I have loved Thailand. The childhood I spent there – 14 years of my young life – has left a permanent mark on me. No one can deny that fact.
My favorite photograph from the trip captures a moment we shared with a northern Thai farmer the day before my flight back to the States. He climbed a tree to harvest fresh coconuts and cut them open for us in a spontaneous display of hospitality and
generosity. His joyful act perfectly encapsulated the people and culture I’ve had the privilege of knowing so intimately. As I drank the sweet, refreshing water, I was overwhelmed with the honor of carrying this affection with me always.