Children in-between: constructing identities in the bicultural family.


March 1999 v5 i1 p13(1)


While transnational movement and migrancy are not new fields of inquiry for anthropology, the experiences of children from inter-cultural marriage, as a part of these processes, have rarely been discussed. In this context, competing cultural ideas of childhood and child-raising are tackled in the intimacy of the domestic home and family life. Ethnographic evidence from families where there is a parent of each nationality (British and Greek) resident in Greece, demonstrates that although \'flux\' and \'flow\' are compelling theoretical metaphors for transnational movements, they gloss over the intra-familial \'edges\' in which parents and grandparents experience and express their particular Greekness and Britishness with regard to children. It is argued that the children of these families generate their own conceptual spaces and identities \'in-between\' culturally differentiated adult thoughts and actions through certain identificatory media and thereby effect not merely a role of cultural brokering but hybridized identities in their own right.


Mass movements of individuals around the world have increased throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Between 1800 and 1914, net migration from Europe was estimated to be somewhere in the region of 50 million (Standing 1984: 15). In 1984 alone, more than half a million legal immigrants went to the United States from Mexico, the Philippines and Vietnam. European countries have also seen a large increase in foreign-born immigrants, particularly in Germany, France, the United Kingdom and the Scandinavian countries. In Sweden, more than one in eight people is foreign-born. In Germany there are over 600,000 Italians, well over 100,000 Portuguese and nearly 700,000 Greeks.(1) Such figures have consequences beyond the political and economic.


Such movements around the world have generated a new body of literature, from the detailed journeyings of particular individuals to those of forced movements of entire populations, adding an even greater impetus to the sense of cultural fluidity. Such fluidity has also stimulated the fusion of the themes of identity and movement in anthropological writings over recent years (Chambers 1994; Hannerz 1996; Rapport 1997: 64-79). Central to this interest has been the question of how individuals interpret, construct and reconstruct themselves and the cultures of which they are a part. Recent writing within other disciplines (e.g. Bammer 1994; Robertson et al. 1994) has highlighted the same themes and issues in an attempt to articulate the consequences of social movement as seen from the perspective of the travelling individual, and it demonstrates the wide appeal and relevance of transnational and transcultural movements beyond the limits of a single discipline.


The movement and displacement of myths, languages, music, imagery, cuisine, decor, costume, furnishings and, above all, persons (Geertz 1986: 120-1) have changed even the most isolated geographical areas and rendered them spaces of global, socio-cultural interaction. Clifford (1986: 22) is prompted to comment: \'All is situated and moving\'. Berger (1984: 55) maintains that movement is \'the quintessential experience of our time\'.


Such images are not just depictions of a mobile world, they are descriptions of how movement affects imaginations, personal mythologies and the everyday lives that are lived. Be it from culture to culture, nation to nation or context to context, individual, social and cultural movement is intrinsic to identity. Social and cultural difference (as in language, values, dress, gesture, and so on) between one place and another, however, places limits upon what Hannerz (1993: 68) calls \'cultural flows in space ... a global ecumene\', a \'new diversity of interrelations, fluid and without edges\' as an alternative to \'a global mosaic of cultures; bounded, separate, and distinct\'.


The situation of bicultural families, as I shall attempt to show, demonstrates this challenge, albeit in the intimate context of family life. Cultural flows and pluralisms are also displacements and misplacements, where the movement of individuals across distinct cultural boundaries, within their own domestic space, can be painful, exclusionary, hostile and volatile. And it is within this context, and within what I have loosely termed \'bicultural families\' (Anderson 1997), that I wish to raise the issue of child identities.


Families, childhood and culture


Transnational movement correlates with the increasing number of transnational and transcultural marriages and poses questions about the children of such unions. What sense of identity do the children inherit? How does the child learn a sense of cultural belonging