If there is a word that you can use in moments that urge you to impress your surrounding company, one such word is tertium quid. It is Latin for the “third kind.” When I first heard the word spoken by Dr Trueman, with his mesmerizing English accent, I had a self-reflective moment so deep I had forgotten to which context he was using that phrase. Most Asians in America (and possibly elsewhere) place themselves into roughly two categories. If you were born and raised in America, then most people see you as Asian-American (or American-Asian, whichever you prefer). If you immigrated at a later stage in life to the western hemisphere, then you most likely see yourself as Korean, Chinese, Japanese, etc., at least in terms of how people identify your country of origin (or course, this precludes ignorant Americans who constitute hair and skin color as a marker for nationality). In reference to these two categories, I and most of my high school friends were of a tertium quid. When in the States, I was seen as a Korean (or a fob, ‘fresh-off-the-boat’); when in Korea, I was seen as a foreigner. And as much as this indirect exclusion confused my childhood mind and emotion, I have more than come to grips, but have now embraced my identity as one stuck in the middle, to put is positively, ‘the bridger of gaps’.
As one who has traversed both the culture of the East and West with relative but not complete understanding, one issue that seems to arise in various contexts is the gap between the immigrant generation and the generation immediately afterward. The generation gap, as it is often described, is a phrase popularized in the 1960′s in description of the emerging Baby Boomers. It was generally used to explain away the difficulties of understanding the between generations. But why did (or do) such difficulties exist? Possibly it is in understanding the differences between the two. Possibly there is more. But before we get into the details in the following posts, I leave you, hopefully as food-for-thought, with a hypothetical and rather stereotyped, yet still helpful, depiction of misunderstanding between immigrant generations and their children.
Father: Congratulations on graduating from an Ivy League school, son. Have you thought about what discipline you will continue to study?
Son: Thanks, dad. Umm… about that. I’ve been thinking some and I’m not sure I want to get further schooling.
Father: What? What do you mean? What will you do?
Son: Ummm… (nervously hesitant) I was thinking I could go to New York and try to make it as a Broadway actor.
Father: Broadway actor?? What about your education? You can’t let your Ivy League education go to waste.
Son: I’m sure it’ll help me somehow along the way, but dad, listen, this is my passion. I really want to do this.
Father: (with a very concerned expression) Son, you don’t live in this world alone. You should listen to what I say and apply for graduate school. I’m older and wiser so I know what you need.
Son: Dad… (shoulders sinking from frustration) but that’s not what I have a passion for.
Father: (sternly) If you do this Broadway thing, you are on your own. I cannot support this choice.
And the rest I leave to your imagination.
(To be continued in Part 2: The Linguistic Leap)