Often times, we find ourselves in the stories of others, resonate with their struggles, and rejoice at their triumphs. That’s why I love sitting back on my comfortable spot, grabbing a hot drink, and listening to a great TED talk, especially if it’s on a topic that touch the heart.
As a third-cultured kid, I am skilled at easily navigating the diversity around me but have struggled with making sense of the diversity within me.
Pondering over questions of identity and belonging is no easy task, but I’ve found great inspiration and joy by listening in on the journeys of others.
Below are 10 TED talks I’ve gathered on the topics of culture and identity from those with amazing stories and lessons to share.
- Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From, Ask Me Where I’m A Local (my all-time favorite TED Talk)
Do you struggle to answer the question “where are you from?” If so, then you must listen to what Taiye Selasi, British-American writer and photographer of Nigerian and Ghanaian descent, have to say about “multi-local” people, those with multiple identities. She challenges us to define identity not by the rigid frameworks of nationality or ethnic origins, but rather, as a set of experiences we amass. She explains the formation of identity in such an eloquent manner, and I’ve drew inspiration from this talk every time I listen. I even hosted a screening for the TCKs in my community and so many discussions arose!
“I’m not multinational. I’m not a national at all. How could I come from a nation? How can a human being come from a concept?”
“I’m not a national. I’m a local. I’m multi-local.”
“Our experience is where we’re from.”
“You can take away my passport, but you can’t take away my experience. That I carry within me. Where I’m from comes wherever I go.”
“She isn’t a citizen of the world, but a citizen of worlds.”
In the age of movement, an increasing number of us are more liberated than ever to choose where we call home rather than have it assigned to us at birth. Writer Pico Iyer celebrates the “floating tribe,” people living in countries outside of their own, by taking us on a journey to find the true meaning of home through mobility and stillness.
“Home has really less to do with a piece of soil than with a piece of soul.”
“When my grandparents were born, they pretty much had their sense of home, their sense of community, even their sense of enmity, assigned to them at birth, and didn’t have much chance of stepping outside of that. And nowadays, at least some of us can choose our sense of home, create our sense of community, fashion our sense of self, and in so doing maybe step a little beyond some of the black and white divisions of our grandparents’ age.”
“Where you come from now is much less important than where you’re going.”
“Home is not just the place where you happen to be born. It’s the place where you become yourself.”
The narrative of a single story glosses over the complexities of the human experience and limits our worldview, yet it is the story that we subconsciously tell ourselves and our children. In a personal tale, Nigeria-raised and US-educated novelist, Chimamanda Adichie, shares with us how she has found her authentic cultural voice through reevaluating mainstream representations of people, culture, and place.
“So that is how to create a single story, show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.”
“Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.”
“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
“The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.”
“Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.”
“When we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.”
Rebecca Hwang is an entrepreneur and lecturer, who was born in Korea, raised in Argentina, and educated in the US. After a lifetime of juggling various identities and feeling out of place, she had come to a pivotal realization that her complex identity is a unique strength in a globalized world rather than a weakness. She hopes that future generations can create a world where identities are no longer used to alienate, but rather, to unite.
“It turns out that I was too Korean to be Argentinian, but too Argentinian to be Korean.”
“Today my identity quest is no longer to find my tribe. It’s more about allowing myself to embrace all of the possible permutations of myself and cultivating diversity within me and not just around me.”
“I hope that they (her kids) will use their unique combination of values and languages and cultures and skills to help create a world where identities are no longer used to alienate what looks different, but rather, to bring together people.”
Juggling different identities as an American, African, and Ghanian, Micheal Rain is a digital story-teller who aims to capture the stories of first generation immigrants who live at the intersections of their countries of origin and their countries of residence. In a humorous personal tale, he shares the misunderstandings of the immigrant experience when viewed through limited narratives.
“He (Michael’s father) explained to me that, when he was in Ghana, everyone was black, so he never thought about it. But in the US, it’s a thing.”
“Engage us in conversation; discover who immigrants actually are, and see us apart from characterizations or limited media narratives or even who we might appear to be. We’re walking melting pots of culture, and if something in that pot smells new or different to you — don’t turn up your nose. Ask us to share.”
Recent high school graduates Priya Vulchi and Winona Guo are on mission to improve racial literacy across the US by bridging the compassion and knowledge gap that exists in our understanding of race. They’ve traveled to all 50 states to collect personal stories about race and intersectionality, and paired them with research and statistic redefine what it means to be racially literate in our modern society.
“In communities around our country, so many of which are racially divided, If you don’t go searching for an education about race, for racial literacy, you won’t get it. It won’t just come to you.”
“To be racially literate, to understand who we are so that we can heal together, we cannot neglect the heart or the mind.”
“We need to raise the bar, elevate our standards for racial literacy. Because without investing in an education that values both the stories and statistics, the people and the numbers, the interpersonal and the systematic, there will always be a piece missing.”
“Today, so few of us understand each other. We don’t know how to communicate, live together, love each other. We need to all work together to create a new national community. A shared culture of mutual suffering and celebration.”
Tash Aw is a Malaysian novelist residing in London. In comparison to his family who have built a settle life in Malaysia after escaping upheavals in China, Tash has always felt that he needed to leave in order to find home. Over the years, he has found solace in his multiple identities and hopes that we harness the benefits of multiculturalism to better understand ourselves and others.
“Moving from one country to another changes a person’s mentalities so fundamentally that even the most basic of notions things you take for granted who you are where you’re from these become altered beyond all recognition.”
“Leaving home ultimately allows you the freedom and space to think about who you are and where you’re from.”
“Moving to a new country challenges you to open up and understand a different culture but it also challenges you to confront yourself.”
“The challenge before us is I believe to harness the state of swirling cultures and influences and see it for its benefits rather than for its perils.”
Somara is a first-generation American whose family hails from Trinidad. In a personal story, she sheds light on the complexities of being a first-generation American immigrant and navigating the space between two cultures.
“It became an intrinsic and innate behavior to switch
my identity on and off depending on the groups I was surrounded by.”
“As a first-generation American, our identity doesn’t have a point of origin nor is it traveling to any particular destination but rather we must find solace and stability in a transitory state. We are swinging pendulums between two worlds harboring two cultures within us.”
Born in India, raised in Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia, Abeer Yusuf had to grapple with the definition of identity and belonging from a young age. Drawing from the experiences of third-cultured kids (TCKs), Abeer highlights the positives and negatives of transitioning between cultures and how it can make us rethink our own conceptions of “home”.
“I think home matters. I think identity matters. It matters that you know where you’re from so that you know what your place in the world is.”
“Right now we (TCKs) are the exception, but soon we are going to become the norm.”
“It’s the worst feeling in the world to know that these places that you consider home don’t feel the same way back.”
“Expected repatriation makes all the difference when we talk about TCKs because it’s how you view home. It’s the reason why home becomes a very contentious issue.”
“I like to think of being a TCK as a privileged statelessness.”
Phil Cha was the typical model student enrolled medical school, before he decided to embark on a quest in search of belonging through a decade long adventure around the globe. He shares with us his personal struggles with identity, interesting tales along the road, and the ultimate realization that identity is simply the product of the collaboration of people and parts around us.
“If I didn’t know who I was, I had a difficult time really believing that I knew what I wanted.”
“It’s when you leave your friends your family the media and everyone who tells you who you have to be that’s really when you’re free to figure out who you want to be.”
“We don’t need identity as a geographic location anymore. In a multi-cultural environment, identity is just this collaboration of everyone around you and that’s where I found my belonging.”