By: Melody Bell-Gam
Growing up, I thought children like myself were part of the norm – children who are raised between other countries and their home countries. I grew up in a global community, in the sense that most of the people I interacted with were from different parts of the world, so I thought nothing awkward of being an African child in a Spanish or Chinese speaking environment, as the case may be. It wasn’t until the age of eight, when I returned to my home country for the first time in five years, that I realized that children like myself were actually an exception.
The first time I stood at attention was in a morning assembly in front of the primary school I would attend, I thought I was being respectful of the interesting hymn-like tune to which the other pupils were singing-until a classmate turned and glared at me in both shock and amazement.
“You don’t know the national anthem?” The what? Whose national anthem?
I remember the confusion I felt as she continued querying me, and the slight self-consciousness slowly taking over me as other children began to take interest in our conversation. I remember feeling a little foolish, but not knowing why. Here I was, expected to have knowledge of something that was somehow a part of me, but that I felt no concrete connection to. I remember having the urge to say something in my defense, but I couldn’t find the ‘voice’ with which to explain my case. I didn’t know it at the time, but my position as a third culture child would leave me baffled over the meaning of this ‘voice’ and questioning if I had it at all.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a minority group is a “small sect of people within a larger community or country”. Most people think of minorities in terms of race and ethnicity, but there are many situations in which minority voices can be seen in other areas, as well. The majority of people define their voice through relations within their social circles, and learn to think and assess based on these experiences. For minority populations living in the United States, defining that voice seems to be in itself a challenge, because their conception of the world is always being questioned. Certain theories contradict minority values, and sometimes, the desire to be heard is overshadowed by decisions of the majority. In my case, the subdual of my ‘voice’ wasn’t a result of a society dominated by Western thoughts and ideals. In front of my new school, surrounded by children with whom I shared various similarities, I realized I was a minority, because I didn’t share the same backgrounds as the rest of the children. Even when I realized that it would be in my benefit to explain the reason as to why I was unlike them, I knew somehow in my subconscious mind that they wouldn’t understand, and even if a few of them did, they still would not be able to relate. And I would still remain a minority.
Finding that ‘voice’ and being able to use it is something that has come with maturity and an understanding of my identity. But there were so many times that I felt like I had so many different identities, it felt a little strange trying to switch between them. I never doubted my place as a citizen of my community, yet I continually felt the need to prove that I was capable-and I came to realize that no other person needed this proof more than my very self. I was forced to come to terms with my unique perspective- but at the end of the day, I realize that if I hadn’t, it would become a burden I voluntarily place on myself. It is only when one understands that the differences that are bestowed on us as part of being a minority are what differentiate us from the next person, and by dismissing them because of discomfort or societal ignorance, we silence our own ‘voices’. Everybody on this earth, in some way, shape or form, are a minority at some point in their lives and the ‘voices’ they develop becomes the start of unstoppable feats. Things I know now. Things I wish I could have said to my eight year old self.