Living In Two Cultures: Why I Am "Grateful" For My Asian Heritage

By
Services for Real Estate Pros with CloseMyDeal, LLC Commercial TC Services

"If you can find your footing between two cultures, sometimes you can have the best of both worlds."  Randy Pausch. 

For some of you who are reading this now, and at one point in time, you've experienced the low, gnawing feeling that is unbelonging. It's a feeling that won't let you sleep at night and hits when you're surrounded by people who don't look like you.

It's the feeling you can't always pinpoint, but it's nagging at you.

I'm Asian American, but to get more specific than Asian, I am Thai. For the first 19 years of my life, Thailand was my home. Surrounded by familiar scenes, foods, and faces, I never doubted if I belonged.

But I must admit, I don't think my 19-year-old self was quite prepared for the culture shock that would hit me when I immigrated to the United States in 1972. Upon my arrival, I recall gazing up at Lady Liberty with exhaustion, yet amidst my fatigue, I couldn't help but smile at the thought of my new beginning.

To my dismay, the honeymoon phase of moving to a foreign country soon ran dry as time passed. And I was left with an empty, homesick feeling. This was then coupled with that constant feeling of unbelonging. That nagging feeling again!

The concept of not belonging was uncharted territory for me. It was unfamiliar; at first, I couldn't quite place my finger on what I was feeling or why I was feeling it.

But then, all I knew was that something felt off, leaving me isolated in a sea of people.

It wasn't until later that I realized I was experiencing the effects of living in two cultures—not belonging to just one culture but two. All at once, I was bombarded with new customs, expectations, and beliefs. I felt stuck between two worlds, never really belonging to either.

But over time, I slowly started to feel more comfortable in my skin as I learned more about both cultures and myself.

Finally, I realized that the feeling of unbelonging wasn't a bad thing. It was something that made me unique. It was something that molded me into the person I am today.

And for that, I am grateful.

I'm grateful for my Asian heritage and all the richness it has brought into my life.

I'm grateful that I can view the world differently because I am of two diverging cultures.

The feeling of trying to squeeze me into American customs while retaining my Thai roots was exhausting, and it eventually led to me concluding that it was simply unsustainable.

I knew compromising one cultural aspect of my identity to accommodate the other was not healthy, so what do I do now?

I started to do things that made me happy rather than what I thought would make other people happy.

And through this process of self-discovery, I slowly started to feel more comfortable and found pride in my Thai heritage. I realized that I didn't have to lose myself to gain the approval of others.

I'm grateful that my adventure to a new land resolves positively.

Now a successful entrepreneur, I no longer feel different because I'm genuinely proud of my Thai heritage. As a result, I possess no desire to change aspects of my identity or hide parts of myself away.

It's a long and lonely journey sometimes, but it's worthwhile.

"When you embrace your unique culture and perspective, you can change the world around you."  Aura Alex

This is my second entry to the November Challenge hosted by Debe Maxwell, CRS. Thank you for the thoughtful challenge during this beautiful season of "sharing." 

Photos by: Shutterstock & Canva

 

Comments (32)

Grant Schneider
Performance Development Strategies - Armonk, NY
Your Coach Helping You Create Successful Outcomes

Hi Aura - a great book by Fons Tompenaars, Riding the Wave of Culture, talks about resolving cultural dilemmas and you have done those.  Don't give up your identity and don't take on another but find your best way.

Nov 10, 2022 10:17 AM
Aura Alex

Grant Schneider: Thank you for the book suggestion, I'll check it out. I hope someday I'll write one (oops! just let the cat out of the box!) using my lessons and experiences.

Nov 10, 2022 10:48 AM
Ginger Harper
Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage~ Ginger Harper Real Estate Team - Southport, NC
Your Southport~Oak Island Agent~Brunswick County!

Aura,

 Excellent post.  Sometimes we all have felt that we did not belong.  It is a harsh feeling.

But keep in mind.  That you do belong.

Nov 10, 2022 11:22 AM
Aura Alex

Yes, Ginger Harper, I do belong. Thank you for saying that! 

Nov 10, 2022 11:50 AM
Brian L. Sirota, Esq.
Bristar Realty (Realtor/Attorney) - Orange, CA
For Solutions: (714) 501-7660

Aura,

Your post once again resonates with me, but for reasons I'd prefer to discuss privately.  And I will.   

What is striking is how your command of English has surpassed those born and raised in the US.   I know other Asian Americans who've achieved a similar impressive command of English.   Being whip-smart is the one thing you have in common with them.

As to the feeling of unbelonging, being Thai American is likely more difficult than immigrating from other Asian countries.   There are huge enclaves for Vietnamese-origin Americans, for example, to feel comfortable.   The Thai-origin American communities are much smaller.   This makes your ability to acclimate and thrive all the more impressive.

We should all know by now that you're an extraordinary person.  And speaking of small groups, you belong to a tiny group of favored people..... mine!

Nov 10, 2022 12:06 PM
Aura Alex

Brian L. Sirota, Esq. It appears you have spent much time with Asian Americans. You are correct that fewer Thai-origin Americans are anywhere, and NYC and LA are probably the two largest cities that the Thais prefer. I have had very few Thai friends since I came to the US, and I'd say less than a dozen; most are no longer around or near me (they went back home or live afar). Today, my only Thai friend is my hairdresser; we are sisters and have been friends for 12 years. 

My lack of Thai people around me has worked to my advantage at times because learning English and survival depended on it. It forces me to step out of my comfort zone (speaking and eating Thai food with other Thais) and consequently helps me with my English learning firsthand. 

I had to learn to write English due to my need for time to think of words to use without interruptions, compared to speaking or discussing heated subjects with colleagues and others. Feel free to interrupt me when I'm writing but not when I'm talking, LOL!!

I am flattered and honored to belong to YOUR tiny group of favored people!! Thank you. 🥰

 

Nov 10, 2022 01:59 PM
Nick Vandekar, 610-203-4543
Long & Foster Real Estate Inc 610-225-7400 - Devon, PA
Tredyffrin Easttown Realtor, Philly Main Line

I love this post, although we speak the same language moving here from England 32 years ago was a culture shock. So, I can imagine what it must have felt like for you. I know I definitely at times felt I did not belong here. When times are hard you dig deep and sometimes have to face hard choices. But those all help you discover who you really are and allow you to reveal that side of yourself. Well deserved feature.

Nov 10, 2022 12:18 PM
Aura Alex

Nick Vandekar, 610-203-4543: Your words touched me on deeper levels; "when times are hard, you dig deep and sometimes have to face hard choices...." I get it! 

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and heartfelt words. 

Nov 10, 2022 01:31 PM
Anna Banana Kruchten Phoenix Broker
HomeSmart Real Estate - Phoenix, AZ
602-380-4886

Aura you've talked about this subject previously  and I can imagine at the young age of nineteen (or whatever age) it could be and is challenging to feel like ones fits in/belongs in their new country. And espeically if they have no 'family' per so there to help them out - just yourself!!!  I learned at a young age to appreciate and connect with others from many cultures - thanks to my Dad's business travels where we met many people and me going to boarding school in HS. For me I learned from my folks that it was fascinating to learn how other folks lived, did things, felt, saw things etc. I remember exactly when I began to 'dream' in Spanish - that was a clue I actually was a Latina with blonde hair living in a sea of dark haired people!!  It was a cool feeling at that age. You constantly amaze me by your thoughtful and insightful words and stories.  I am so thankful you are a member of BananaTude and of course AR!

Nov 10, 2022 02:05 PM
Aura Alex

Hi, Anna Banana Kruchten CRS, Phoenix Broker: Yes, I have talked about my story before, and each Challenge brings out a different perspective of my experiences. I could write a book about my life in America, before and after. I might do that; I could retire early, LOL!!

I agreed with you about learning how other folks lived, did things, etc. A Greek family once adopted me, and the couple immigrated from Greece. They took me in with an open arm, and I became their surrogate "daughter." I had three Greek siblings, and they were wonderful people. It helped because I loved Greek food! When I moved to Seattle, I had to leave them behind (they lived in Hyannis, Cape Cod). 

I am often drawn to folks with ethnic backgrounds; almost 100% of the time, it has been a welcoming and warm experience. It must be your Latina charms that attract me to your BananaTude!! 😍

Nov 10, 2022 03:23 PM
Aura Alex

OMG! Anna Banana Kruchten CRS, Phoenix Broker, I had no idea about your ethnic background. I am so intrigued by our conversation today. I know there's more. How I wish I could just fly out there and meet you and anyone I want. It's that Law of Attraction, isn't it, Anna?  

Nov 10, 2022 08:32 PM
Anna Banana Kruchten Phoenix Broker

That is so wonderful Aura that the Greek family adopted you into their family!  It makes such a big difference to have a family of sorts, doesn't it! That's how my Mexican girlfriends and I feel as well.  They stayed with my family while in school with me over the holidays and traveled around with us as well during the summer vacation. I lived with their family in Mexico and this continued on for other siblings on both sides for years. One big family!

 

Haha on the Latina Charm!  Many at one point actually thought I was from Spain (due to the blonde hair which is more common there). I actually taught Spanish in HS.....and spoke better Spanish (with accent) than my teacher.  Kind of a weird place for me back then but fun!

Nov 10, 2022 07:56 PM
Hannah Williams
HomeStarr Realty - Philadelphia, PA
Expertise NE Philadelphia & Bucks 215-820-3376

Aura Alex I can only imagine the sinking feeling you must have had to be a stranger in a strange land. How difficult that must have been for you and how homesick you must have felt. You should be and I see you are proud of how far you have come in your life . May you be blessed in all you do 

Nov 10, 2022 03:38 PM
Aura Alex

Hi, Hannah Williams: It has been a long time since my first arrival in the US. It took years for me to realize those things mentioned in this post. 

Thank you for your kind words. 

Nov 10, 2022 05:19 PM
Jeff Dowler, CRS
eXp Realty of California, Inc. - Carlsbad, CA
The Southern California Relocation Dude

Aura:

What a wonderful, heartfelt post about your cultural journey to blend two very different cultures, and the experiences, challenges, and feelings about doing so. No doubt your feelings and experiences area similar to others who have immigrated here, and perhaps can help those of us without this experience better understand and appreciate what it means, and how difficult it may have been.

Jeff

Nov 10, 2022 07:28 PM
Aura Alex

Hi, Jeff Dowler, CRS: While I am still Thai and most Thai traditions and customs were instilled in me, I regret losing the Thai language. I often find myself cannot think of some Thai words, and quite often, my girlfriend and I converse in half English and half Thai (or 2/3 English). Neither of us can remember all Thai words, and it's easier to speak English. Imagine two Thai-origin Americans speaking English with a Thai accent. Go figure! 

Nov 10, 2022 08:41 PM
Endre Barath, Jr.
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices - Beverly Hills, CA
Realtor - Los Angeles Home Sales 310.486.1002

Aura Alex  loved your post and the comments as well. Needless to say we are on the same page. I came her in 1967 and I was about 13+ year old.... with one year of  English learned in Vienna Austria.... could not even understand  the answer when I asked "what time is it" from the porter at JFK.... I can also relate to being considered the "F'n Foreigner" in grocery stores as well as at USMA.... but in spite of all that I got past it.....

Nov 10, 2022 10:42 PM
Aura Alex

Endre Barath, Jr.: You and a few people I adore were in my thought while writing this post. I am proud to know you. And thank you for being my friend!

Nov 11, 2022 08:05 AM
Endre Barath, Jr.
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices - Beverly Hills, CA
Realtor - Los Angeles Home Sales 310.486.1002

p.s. Congratulations on the Feature well deserved so glad the Feature Ferries were reading, Endre

Nov 10, 2022 10:43 PM
Ritu Desai 703-625-4949
Samson Properties - Chantilly, VA
Northern Virginia,Washington DC & Maryland Realtor

Beautiful expressed the feelings of many of us you come from 2 extreme cultures and trying to fit into both shoe sizes at the same time.  

Nov 11, 2022 02:29 AM
Aura Alex

Hi, Ritu Desai 703-625-4949: your analogy of fitting into both shoe sizes is right on! That was exactly how I felt. Now I know the shoes fit based on my belief! Thank you for sharing your thought.

Nov 11, 2022 08:08 AM
Roy Kelley
Retired - Gaithersburg, MD

Thank you very much, Aura, for sharing some of your personal experience and observations. I shared this post on Twitter and Facebook.

Nov 11, 2022 07:15 AM
Aura Alex

Wow! Impressive. Thanks, Roy Kelley.

Nov 11, 2022 11:38 AM
Aura Alex

Awesome, thank you, Roy Kelley, for spreading the word. I am grateful!

I hope you'll have a great weekend. It's getting colder in the morning around here. Leaves are still falling, the wind is still blowing, hard at times. 

Nov 11, 2022 08:10 AM
Roy Kelley

A bit of Maryland history making:

Aruna Miller, a former Democratic state legislator, made history in Maryland on Tuesday as the nation’s first South Asian woman to be elected state lieutenant governor.

Nov 11, 2022 08:23 AM
Roy Kelley

The other historical event in Maryland this week:

Democrat Wes Moore has made history in Maryland as the state's first Black governor, according to a race call by the Associated Press. He is only the third Black governor elected in the country.

Nov 11, 2022 01:24 PM
Kathleen Daniels, Probate & Trust Specialist
KD Realty - 408.972.1822 - San Jose, CA
Probate Real Estate

Believe it or not, I can relate to this.  I feel stared at like I do not belong when I go to predominantly {fill in the blank} communities.  I eat at restaurants where I am the only white/caucasian person there. The looks I get are like .... are you lost? You do not belong here. 

I have lived in a multicultural melting pot for many years. Diversity surrounds us all. 

I embrace it.  I love Thai Food.

Nov 11, 2022 11:08 AM
Aura Alex

Kathleen Daniels, Probate & Trust Specialist: I believe it can happen to anyone anytime. I learned to think that it's about them and not about me. 

I still have my wok and hope someday I can do my "Have Wok Will Travel." For you, no meat, no tofu,  just veggies! 😁

Nov 11, 2022 07:00 PM
Myrl Jeffcoat
Sacramento, CA
Greater Sacramento Realtor - Retired

In the years 1997 - 2005, I not only worked as a Realtor, I worked full time at an international software company with folks from all over the globe.  It was an incredibly enriching experience.  I love Thai food, even a little more than Indian food, because Thai food often adds coconut milk and peanuts.

Nov 11, 2022 07:56 PM
Aura Alex

Ah! I can start "Have Wok Will Travel" by stopping in Sacramento to cook a few Thai dishes for you, Myrl Jeffcoat, and heading to San Jose to see Kathleen Daniels, Probate & Trust Specialist. She likes Thai food too.

It appears I can easily find my Thai food lovers from AR members! We'll have a feast! 😜

Nov 11, 2022 08:25 PM
Myrl Jeffcoat
Sacramento, CA
Greater Sacramento Realtor - Retired

CONGRATULATIONS Aura, on having this blog FEATURED in the Old Farts Club group!  

Nov 11, 2022 07:58 PM
Aura Alex

Thank you for the feature, Myrl Jeffcoat.

Nov 11, 2022 08:18 PM
Wanda Kubat-Nerdin - Wanda Can!
Red Rock Real Estate (435) 632-9374 - St. George, UT
St. George Utah Area Residential Sales Agent

You most certainly have the best of both worlds, Aura. My grandparents on my father's side were from Bohemia and they may have experienced some of the same things you did. You have adapted well and I appreciate the way you tell stories, you create feelings with your words. Thai food is one of our favorites as well!

Nov 13, 2022 03:20 PM
Aura Alex

Hi, Wanda Kubat-Nerdin - Wanda Can! Thank you for your kind words. They mean a lot to me.

I hope your son and his family are doing better. I still have them in my prayers. 

Nov 13, 2022 05:24 PM
Ed Silva
Mapleridge Realty, CT 203-206-0754 - Waterbury, CT
Central CT Real Estate Broker Serving all equally

While I cannot relate to being foreign, I do know the difference as my parents, while born in this country were both raised in Portugal and when they came back as American citizens from another culture, they were able to keep loyal to their roots. They raised us in both keeping the best of both worlds

Nov 14, 2022 08:39 AM
Aura Alex

Hi, Ed Silva: I know how lucky I am to appreciate and enjoy the best of both worlds. My daughter, born here, tells me how much she wants to learn about my Thai family. She and her husband have visited Thailand and traveled much of the country. I may not live long enough to see my great-grandkids and I hope to leave pride and a footprint in their hearts. 

 

Nov 14, 2022 01:07 PM
Ray Henson
eXp Realty of California, Inc. (lic. #01878277) - Elk Grove, CA
Realtor

From what we have experienced in Thailand, you shouldn't change a bit.  We both have mentioned how friendly and thoughtful everyone is here.  If anything, we should be changing our culture towards the Thai culture.  We are fishing off of the coast of Koh Samui today.  I will have lots of photos to share on AcriveRain soon.  I have been posting a bunch of Facebook!

Nov 14, 2022 03:08 PM
Aura Alex
CloseMyDeal, LLC - Seattle, WA
Specializing in Multifamily Projects Nationwide

Ha..Ray, I wonder which crowd you have been hanging out with during your trip to Thailand. I was told I had broken the "Thai Mold" when I left my home country! 😁

Are you catching snappers off the Koh Samui coast? 

Nov 14, 2022 04:57 PM
Jan Green - Scottsdale, AZ
Value Added Service, 602-620-2699 - Scottsdale, AZ
HomeSmart Elite Group, REALTOR®, EcoBroker, GREEN

Thank you for sharing that part of your past that surely had to be painful.  Through your words, I can tell how difficult that must have been.  From my perspective, I can imagine the hardship.  Those of us from this country don't realize how difficult that transition has been for you or others.  I'm very glad that you now feel peace and at ease with not having to represent anyone other than yourself! 

Nov 23, 2022 07:16 PM
Jan Green - Scottsdale, AZ

You're very welcome!  Love your posts!

Nov 25, 2022 07:09 PM
Aura Alex

Hi, Jan Green - Scottsdale, AZ. At a time like Thanksgiving, I feel so grateful for everything that has happened in the past because it makes me appreciate the present and the future. 

Thank you, Jan, for your thoughtful comment. 

Nov 25, 2022 12:36 PM
Debe Maxwell, CRS
www.iCharlotteHomes.com | The Maxwell House Group | RE/MAX Executive | (704) 491-3310 - Charlotte, NC
The right Charlotte REALTOR!

Hi Aura! I apologize but, I was just wrapping up tallying up points this evening for last month's challenge and saw that you had added in your comments, beneath your first post. I'm so sorry I missed these last two.

Your post really tugged at my heart. I was born an American and always strive to embrace others from different cultures. It hurts my heart that those in the area that you originally moved did not embrace your culture. Every person from every culture has something amazing to love and celebrate. I'm so happy you were able to find solace in America and a city that does embrace culture. 

I'm so very thankful that I live in the South - we are a melting pot and welcome everyone!😉 I can't imagine the punishment I would have gotten from my parents for being any other way! 

Thank you for sharing in our November challenge, Aura. Again, I apologize for missing the two you posted in the comments.

Dec 04, 2022 06:18 PM
Aura Alex

Debe Maxwell, CRS 

Oh, Gosh! I knew you were busy...I was wondering how you did all four posts by yourself! I would have offered to help had I known you would do that yourself! You're a Superwoman!!

Thank you for your warm thought about this subject. I am grateful for people like you who have such warm hearts! ❤️

Dec 04, 2022 06:40 PM