Becoming a Third Culture Kid: Letter to My Multicultural Daughter

IMG_1440Dear Daughter (Read this only when we move from Brazil to the United States!),

I’m sure you’re busy unpacking your room and familiarizing yourself with the menu at Starbucks and layout of Target. Good thinking because we’ll be going to both places A LOT!

If you could give me a few minutes, there are some things I’d like to tell you.

First, I want to apologize. Your parents have brought you to a place where you won’t get called Goldilocks or Cinderella on a regular basis. No one here in the US is going to come to a dead halt on the sidewalk and dote over your blue eyes. Sorry about that. Your traits just aren’t that special here.

In fact, you are exactly what everyone still imagines a “real” American looks like. Congratulations, you’re mainstream! How does it feel?

You’ve never lived in the U.S., so I’ll spell it out. With your white skin, blue eyes, blonde hair, and accent you can slip right into mainstream America and nobody will be the wiser. The truth is, dropping your Brazilian side and going exclusively white-American could make some things easier.

Like the US census. You won’t have to figure out how to report being a white-Brazilian on a document where “‘Hispanic,’ ‘Latino,’ and ‘Spanish’ are used interchangeably”.  You were born in the largest country in Latin America, but you don’t speak Spanish.  You could learn Spanish, but it would certainly be easier to only check “white”, non-Hispanic, and be done with it.

4442280946_8d60ed9e76_oIt’s not just the government that equates Latino with Hispanic.  Odds are neither the WASP from Maine nor the Honduran-American in Texas is likely to see you as Latino. Maybe your school counselor will send you to the Latino Student Association, but you’ll probably have to ask them to translate their bylaws into Portuguese. And are you going to sit through meetings conducted in Spanish? Ask them to switch to English? It would be less complicated to just give up on being Latino and join the drama club.

By being only white-American, you’ll avoid awkward conversations explaining that Brazilians don’t speak Spanish or eat tortillas. You won’t have to continually talk about the Amazon rainforest, and you could absolve yourself of all responsibility for correcting people who think Rio de Janeiro is the capital.

In fact, if you don’t ever speak Portuguese in public, WASP Americans will embrace you completely as one of their own. This means you’ll probably have to listen to some complaints about all the immigrants destroying America, but if you’ve given up on the whole Latino identity anyway, you can get in some jokes of your own. Just don’t joke specifically about Argentina or Uruguay, or you’ll give yourself away. Those countries are way too far away for mainstream Americans to know about.

The simple truth, rightly or wrongly, is that your physical appearance and your accent when speaking English make it easy for you to slip on the mantle of “typical” American. Pretty much everyone is going to assume that’s what you are anyway.

Don’t let them.

Even if it makes some things easier, some people more comfortable, some situations less awkward, don’t be typical. You are more than typical.

You are American and Brazilian.  You are a native English speaker and a native Portuguese speaker.  You eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and pão de queijo.  You can sit quietly by yourself reading and can happily embrace all 100 guests at your birthday party.  You grew up reading Dr. Seuss and Monteiro Lobato.  You have an American’s optimism and a Brazilian’s sense of loyalty.

You are Brazilian and American and a bridge between them.  You are more adaptable, creative, and tolerant than most people.  You’ve been boarding planes and carrying a passport since you were five months old.  You can translate between Fahrenheit and Celsius and read a map in kilometers and miles.  These are life skills you can take to the bank.

You come from French, Italian, German, English, Portuguese, Welsh, and native Brazilian peoples.  You have an uncle who cheers for Flamengo in Rio de Janeiro and an uncle who cheers for the Falcons in Atlanta.  You have a grandfather who grew up in rural South Dakota and a grandmother who grew up in rural Ceará.  As kids, your dad picked out costumes for Carnaval and your mom picked out costumes for Halloween.

IMG_0574This is all to say that in your case, one plus one doesn’t equal two.  You are American.  You are Brazilian.  And you are a blend that is unique.  For you, one plus one equals three.  Don’t try to fit in by being less.  Don’t let others assume that you are less.

Be all that you are.  Always.



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Brynn is a writer living in Vitoria, Brazil with her Brazilian husband and multicultural, bilingual daughter. She blogs about her experiences as an American in Brazil and living in a multicultural family at You can also follow her on twitter @bbarineau.

9 thoughts on “Becoming a Third Culture Kid: Letter to My Multicultural Daughter”

  1. Brynn this is such a beautiful and moving letter to remind your daughter that she need not pick one race over the other but embrace both! This is a letter that can be adapted and read to any child of mixed race. This letter here on MKB is like a breath of fresh air!

  2. Arvind Kumar Singh

    Brynn this is a wonderful write up, I am sure your daughter will be a very smart kid among other regular American kids. I hope she visits Jaipur (India) some day to have a different / new cultural experience. God bless her!

    1. Arvind! How wonderful to hear from you! Thank you so much for your kind words. I hope very much that we will make it to Jaipur one day and our families will have the chance to meet. Please pass on my good wishes and affection to your family.

  3. Brynn, 16th Paragraph down, you should say “You are of French, Italian, German, English, Portuguese, Welsh, and native Brazilian ancestry”.
    Tell me, where is the third culture?
    She is half American and Half Brazilian and you are saying to your daughter to read the letter once she moves from Brazil to the United States.
    There are 2 cultures here. You are American, husband is Brazilian. Your daughter would experience each culture from parents and country she grows up in. So, Learnt Brazilian culture from Father and she lives in Brazil (Brazilian Culture) and learnt about American Culture from you and will soon live in the United States (American Culture). Where is the third??

    She is just a normal “TWO” cultured kid as there are only 2 countries.

    1. Hi Brian,
      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. I have to disagree that my daughter doesn’t qualify as a TCK. True, my daughter has learned Brazilian culture from a Brazilian parent and American culture from an American parent and a pretty common definition of TCK is “A third culture kid is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture.” But this definition assumes both parents come from the same culture. Notice the singular “culture”. This definition was coined studying kids of expat couples, where the parents were from the same country. As I understand it, researchers concluded that by having relationships with more than one culture, so a child never feels complete ownership of any culture, she is a TCK. That applies to my daughter.

      Libby Stephens also gives a really interesting breakdown on her site She defines the 3 cultures of TCKs as the “Legal Culture”, “Geographical Culture”, and “Relational Culture”. My daughter has two legal cultures (Brazilian and American) but up to this point and for the next five or six years her geographical culture is exclusively Brazilian. She will not live in the U.S. until she’s 10 at least. Because she will know both Brazilian and American culture but be fundamentally different from either because she is multicultural, she has a relationship with all other multicultural. Her multiculturalism is what gives her a “third” culture. TCKs can live in 2, 3, or 9 different countries in their lives.

      I am brand new to all the theory and academic work on the subject, so I’d love to know others’ thoughts and interpretations. Ultimately, my daughter will define herself. But as she can’t yet tie her shoes or use an appropriate amount of toilet paper, I’ll do my best on her behalf for now. : )

  4. This was such a good and touching read for me. You know, as a TCK myself, I wish my parents took more time to speak to me about moving and uprooting and all the things in-between. You inspire me to write one to my daughter too! Thank you !

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