“Who are you? Where are you from? What are you?”
says an omnipotent voice to Elizabeth Liang, who doesn’t quite seem to know how to answer these questions, and proceeds to take you on her journey growing up across continents, from Guatemala to United States to Costa Rica to Panama to Morocco to Egypt. She tells a wonderfully moving story of growing up as a Third Culture Kid (TCK) in the one-woman show - Alien Citizen: An Earth Odyssey.
There are times when you’re about to fall off your chair laughing, only to find yourself tearing up in the next scene. She tells it all, the privileged and exciting, but also the challenging and frustrating sides of growing up as a TCK, having to move and leave behind one life, only to have to adapt to a new one, again and again. Every TCK can relate to her story, which she tells so vividly with her amazing acting, that you feel like you were almost there with her in that memory.
Elizabeth is a ‘business brat’. She’s lived in many different places, her family relocating every couple of years as a result of her father’s job, working for the company Xerox. She is born in Guatemala, to an American mother, of mixed European descent, and a Guatemalan father, of Chinese descent. She tells little snippets of her life in different places and cultures, honest and raw, hilarious and heartbreaking. She talks about turning on the TV, and not seeing anybody that looks like her. She goes to school, and kids make fun of her because she is different from them. She comes home to look in the mirror, to see what difference they are talking about, only to see the same face she sees every day: What difference are they talking about?
She talks about being friends with the group of people in her school that no one else talks to, about wanting to find friends, but not wanting to stand out too much. She keeps getting asked questions about where she’s from, and what she is. As a child, not being able to find the words to express herself, she asks poignantly, “Why can’t anybody see who I am?”. Throughout the show, she portrays how hard it can be for TCK’s to talk about their negative experiences, and to express how they actually feel. Many times, they are told to focus on the positive side, and made to feel like they are not supposed to complain. Elizabeth depicts this throughout the show when she tries to express how she feels, only to close her mouth with her hands in a quick dramatic motion- you’re not supposed to talk about the negative.
Besides being a TCK, she talks about being a woman, being of different race and ethnicity, speaking a different language, of being a foreigner at the foreign school. She talks about being harassed, bullied, of being frightened, and not fitting in. Everywhere she goes, it’s a whole different experience for her, with nothing familiar to hold on to in the environment, except for her parents, who are the only constant in her life. She starts to feel an anger building up inside her, and experiences the ‘transition fatigue’. She’s still not seen.
Only when she’s much older, does she realize that she’s not the only one who’s gone through such an experience. She finds comfort in knowing that her experiences and feelings are not ‘special’ in the TCK world, that she’s not the only one stuffing down her pain, sadness, or fear. Her negative experiences and thoughts, that she could never find the words for how they felt growing up, were never acknowledged. She represents each in the show by imaginary shards of glass, that she starts taking out, one, by, one. It’s amazing how, not being able to find the words as a child, she finds her voice and turns it into this amazing show years later. She explains how speaking of the pain helps her be grateful for all the positive experiences she had as a TCK, and ends with an eloquent story of her being 15 in Kenya with her family, and how lucky she feels.
It’s important for TCK’s to recognize and be aware of their thoughts and feelings, and to talk to someone about it, someone who recognizes the unique struggles that TCK’s might have, as well as their unique strengths such as their resilience, diverse experiences and thinking styles, and adaptability. As a parent, it’s crucial to communicate with your child and check in with them. How are they feeling, what are they thinking, what has their experience been like so far in the country your family is in? Listen to them, and observe their non-verbal expressions as well. Validate their feelings, and create an environment where they know it’s okay to talk about the negative along with the positive, and that it’s natural to have both feelings. I invite all TCK’s and their parents to watch Elizabeth Liang’s breathtaking performance in her show Alien Citizen, which will help you recognize, relate to, and understand some things that TCK’s experience growing up.
Who are you when you’re from everywhere and nowhere? "I'm not from a place. I'm from people."
Are you interested in seeing more?
Watch the Trailer here
Find it Streaming here
Find it on DVD here