Platforms like Facebook and Instagram allow us to show the best parts of our lives. They let us tell clean, cohesive stories without revealing all the struggles it takes to make life beautiful. This feels especially true of those of us who struggle with identifying with more than one country. In my experience growing up as a Third-Culture-Kid, social media always gave me a way to show people the different dimensions of my life without having to step out of my comfort zone. There was now a single place all my friends had access to. Where images of me in a salwar kameez at Diwali could simultaneously exist with pictures of me at prom. No matter how confused I felt inside, I could at least ascertain to the world that I was both proud of my Indian heritage and could easily assimilate into American culture as well.
I was able to communicate all of this without ever having to physically do anything. On the one hand, this was pretty amazing. I never had to risk being made fun of by showing up to school fully dressed for Diwali in order to share the festivities. I could share my love of Bollywood movies by posting stories about the Hindi films I was watching. I could show people I did classical Indian dance by posting short video clips of my performances. I neither had to hide the fact that I lived a very different life outside of my American school nor did I ever have to put myself in a vulnerable position by actually talking to people about my different interests.
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Most importantly, no one had to see the struggle I went through trying to navigate my different identities. Simply swiping from one post to another, it would seem like I had it all figured out.
Additionally, it has been through social media that I have been able to stay connected with the different parts of my life in ways I never thought I would. Just by scrolling online for a few minutes, I am instantly updated on what the latest Kathak artists in Pune, India are busy with. Or, watch 30-second Tasty videos with recipes of forgotten Japanese foods (Japan is where I was born!) that are always exciting to see again. Social media keeps me in touch with the friends I made while living in Manila. Many who have now sprawled all over the world. While I may never meet these people again, they are a part of who I am and even being reminded of their existence makes me feel fulfilled.
However, while social media has largely contributed to making my multifaceted identity feel valuable, it has also let me hide the true difficulties in straddling between different cultures. But, this ability to hide a huge struggle in my life worries me. When you grow up with multiple cultural identities, it’s on you to figure out who you want to project. There are always hard choices to make because it’s simply impossible to do everything. Do I do classical Indian dance and learn something about my heritage? Or do I go to ballet classes because that’s how I’ll assimilate and make more friends? Social media just wipes away all these in-between stages and questions which may seem trivial but end up making all the difference.
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I would argue that this takes away from the beauty of being multicultural. What makes people like me interesting is that we have this amazing opportunity to define our own paths. We have no choice but to go through messy, uncertain phases.
So while it’s important to recognize the ways in which social media has made it possible for people to safely share their unique stories, it’s equally crucial to be cognizant of the fact that real stories are never as clean as an Instagram profile may make them seem. Feeling lost and uncertain is much more the norm than having it all together. And the only way to realize this is to take a break from our phones and look around at each other. There’s so much more to every one of us than our Instagram profiles can even begin to tell.