Hi, I’m Lisa, and I have a cultural identity crisis

Here are the facts: I was born in Georgia and raised in Massachusetts. I’ve never lived outside of the continental U.S., English is my only language, and my “study abroad” semester was in Los Angeles, California. I’m registered to vote, enjoy the occasional Bruce Springsteen song, and I love apple pie—I’m totally American, right? Wrong. Maybe.

My family’s culture is what I’ll call Enhanced American. We appear to be your standard family until closer inspection. We open our presents on Christmas Eve and lo mein is a standard birthday meal. We even have our own vocabulary: “tschüss” instead of goodbye, “bulingon” instead of laundry. The Keller family culture is American-based, but borrows from German, Filipino, and Chinese tradition.

Inevitably, people ask where I’m from. (“Oh, just north of Boston!” is never the answer they’re looking for.) I’ve got a list of nationalities memorized, and I even know the percentages so I can tell you just how not American I am. My father is from Germany—his entire family is from Germany—and he’s got the punctuality and itinerary-making skills to prove it. My mother is from the Philippines, but her heritage is Chinese (64%), Mongolian (24%), Spanish (5%), Portuguese (5%), and Filipino (2%). My sister and I were raised as American kids, but with a strong influence of other cultures and the knowledge that there are other ways of life.

Often we’ll encounter a situation and I’ll hear something along the lines of, “See, I just don’t understand Americans…” or “Germans know how to do it right…” leaving me with a sense of separation from my fellow Americans, and maybe a touch of European elitism. I’m German! I use my knife and fork properly! Wash your clothes on a Sunday? Unthinkable!

Then we visit my dad’s family near Frankfurt. I love going to Germany—the walks in the woods, the fresh bauernbrot—it’s a second home for me. I know my German relatives the best, as we used to visit them quite often when my dad worked for Lufthansa. After a few days I feel very American because it’s painfully obvious to me that I’m not German—tablecloths all the time? Crazy! Eating pizza with silverware? Silly!

Then we’ll see my mom’s family, who are spread out between Texas, California, and the Philippines. Everyone is a lot less formal, a lot less sentimental, and a lot louder. The cousins I’m closest with live in Texas and were raised with a strong set of Asian values and tradition. When I’m in this environment, I start to feel a bit rebellious because I know I’m not the same as them. It gets more sensitive when my decidedly liberal viewpoints clash with the more conservative attitude of my Chinese-Filipino relatives, like if it’s okay for an unmarried (and unengaged) couple to be living together.

It’s frustrating. When I’m just Lisa, I feel proud of all my nationalities. I love that I’m both German and Asian, that I come from a land of delicious chocolate and superior writing utensils, a place with beautiful forests and rich history. I like that we leave coins in the doorway on New Year’s Eve to welcome money into the new year, and that my mom puts a big rock in the bathroom for good feng shui. However, I know I’m not really Chinese, nor am I really German. I guess that means I’m American.

According to the CIA World Fact Book, only 1.61% of the U.S. population identifies as multiracial. Within that percentage, Millennials account for “3.95% of the under-eighteen population in the 2000 U.S. census, [and] 0.95% of the eighteen-and-over population,” and the numbers are growing—5.35 % of the population that were less than one year old in 2000 consisted of multiracial children.

I may have a cultural identity crisis, but I’d rather be exposed to multiple cultures and choose the best parts of each than choose a side and try to fulfill some notion of what it means to belong to any one nationality. And that’s just me.

Photo by RambergMediaImages

Lisa Keller In chronological order >> Manila: where I first encountered death. Frankfurt: where I learned to say good morning to the pine trees. Paris: where I won 100 francs for eating lots of soup, and fell asleep on the metro. Madrid: where I was told to be wary of gypsies. Florence: where I discovered what a sandwich could be. Los Angeles: where I found new life. Vienna: where I was educated about coffee and architecture. Boston: where my roots are snug in the rocky soil. Twitter: @itslisakeller

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