Welcome to the second installment of “TCK Talent,” Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang’s monthly column about adult Third Culture Kids who work in creative fields. As some readers may recall, Lisa—a Guatemalan-American of Chinese-Spanish-Irish-French-German-English descent—has written and performed a one-woman show about being a Third Culture Kid, or TCK. (It debuted in LA in the spring and is coming next week to NYC!)
My guest today is Diahann Reyes, a professional writer/actor who is launching a new blog, writing a memoir, and beginning an additional career as a writer’s editor/coach. Diahann grew up in six countries, worked as a journalist for CNN before becoming an actor, and currently lives in Los Angeles, California.
Growing up here and there and everywhere
Greetings, Diahann, and welcome to the Displaced Nation. I understand you’re the TCK child of Filipino parents. Can you fill us in a little more: why did your family move around and which countries did you live in as a kid?
My dad was a marketing expat. I learned how to speak English with a Kiwi accent in New Zealand, discovered my love for books in Argentina, rode my first camel in Pakistan, went through puberty in the US, attended junior prom in the Philippines, and graduated from high school in Indonesia.
Of all those cultures, did you identify with one in particular?
Like you, I’m a “mash up” of the different cultures I’ve lived in. Living in America for most of my life now, I feel most at home here, which is its own kind of cultural mishmash. In my twenties, I realized that I had to pick one of my “home” cultures as my main one or I’d continue to feel ungrounded. I also identify with particular subcultures that aren’t necessarily considered mainstream, such as the artist culture.
Where and when were you happiest while growing up?
My family’s two years in Argentina were some of my happiest, probably because my mom, dad, sister, and I were all so excited to be living in a new country together. Moving to a different culture was still an adventure of which I had yet to grow weary. Also, at age 8, I was still very much myself and hadn’t been impacted yet by the pressures of puberty and the need to fit in.
What lies beneath the surface…
Speaking of puberty and the female body brings me to the launching of your new blog, Stories from the Belly: A Blog About the Female Body and Its Appetites. What inspired you to begin it and what can followers look forward to from the blog?
For women especially, there are so many truths, emotions, and desires that we tend to suppress: they get buried deep down in our bodies. My blog is my way of excavating this buried inner emotional landscape. I want to talk about the female body in ways not normally touched upon in mainstream media. My blog will include personal stories as well as commentary on relevant current events.
You’ve been working on a memoir. Is it specific to a time and place in your life?
Yes. My memoir is about my latest “move,” only this time rather than going to live in a new country, I’ve spent the last decade “moving into” and learning how to fully inhabit my own body. Location-wise, I take the reader across the globe to some of the places I’ve lived growing up, but the main action takes place in my body.
What themes are you exploring?
The story I tell is absolutely personal, but it does touch on a lot of bigger ideas involving the female body and its objectification and how this can impact a woman’s relationship to herself and others. Desirability, cultural assumptions, sexuality, power, pleasure, and wholeness are some of the through-lines in the book.
Owning who she is
On your website you describe how you fell in love with reading and acting. Did you always know you would pursue both of these interests as careers, or did you struggle with the decision?
I knew I wanted to be a writer from the time I could read, but it took me a long time to own that this is who I am, in part because the grownup me couldn’t imagine that my younger self could just “know” this. Still, writing has been the primary way I’ve made a living—as a TV news writer, an editor, a ghostwriter, and now a blogger, so I guess I didn’t need to know I was a writer to be one.
The decision to act was tougher. I didn’t start to pursue acting until my 30th birthday, and by then I had established a pretty good career in journalism and online media, so I was giving up a lot to change focus. But acting was like this siren calling to me, saying “act, act, act.”
You and I grew up reading many of the same (mostly American and British) authors: Ingalls Wilder, L’Engle, Cleary, Blyton… I remember the day I realized I would never get cast as Jo in any theatrical production of Alcott’s Little Women because I was a girl of color. Did you ever have a moment like this, and if so, which beloved character(s) and book(s) or play(s) did you realize you wouldn’t get to explore as an actress?
I always thought I could be anyone because while growing up I’ve had to be a chameleon. “Adapt and assimilate and fit in” was one of my mantras as a global nomad. But when I got to LA and started auditioning, I realized that I would never be able to play certain characters because I was the wrong ethnicity or type. I was primarily limited to not even Asian parts but Latina roles because I look more Hispanic than Southeast Asian. This meant that I was likely never going to play Maggie from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof or Caroline Ingalls in any future Little House on the Prairie remake, and parts that were for people of my actual ethnicity were out, too. Fortunately, the industry has changed, and more minorities are getting cast outside of ethnicity and stereotype.
What sorts of roles are you attracted to now?
I love parts that call for emotional depth and angst.
I wonder if one of the reasons we’re writers is that we have more autonomy to tell stories than we do as actresses?
I love that I can write what I want—I don’t need anyone to “cast” me first. And I can create characters that aren’t limited by ethnicity or type. I am thinking of creating a solo show that would probably require me to write and play different characters.
I understand you also write poetry. What drew you to that?
I kept diaries growing up and would process my feelings through poetry. With both nonfiction and poetry, I can just be myself. After so many years of working hard at adapting and assimilating to fit in, getting to just be me on the page is a relief.
Helping others to own their stories
You’re about to begin a new endeavor as a writer’s editor/coach. What inspired you to follow this new path?
I know what it is like to have something to say and to struggle with fully expressing my truth—especially when the fears come up—and I want to help other writers overcome these obstacles so they can get their stories out there. I want to work with people who are just as engaged in their process as they are in having a finished product.
What are you looking for in a student/client?
I work with nonfiction writers, bloggers, storytellers, and essayists, and other people with writing and online content projects. Healers and people with unusual business ideas like to work with me, too.
Do you have any other projects coming up?
I hope to publish my memoir next year. The film Out of Her Element, in which I play a therapist with a pill addiction, will premiere soon.
* * *
I must congratulate Diahann on her exciting new ventures, which I believe will resonate with people working in creative fields—and with female travelers and TCKs, especially! Readers, please leave questions or comments for Diahann below.
STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, when Andy Martin will talk to Mark Hillary about his new book, Reality Check: Life in Brazil through the Eyes of a Foreigner.
If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!
img: Diahann Reyes
@ Diahann & Lisa: I find it interesting that you are both actors. Do you think there’s something about your backgrounds as Third Culture Kids that makes it easy for you to assume other guises? As Diahann puts it, you both had to be “chameleons” growing up…
And one more question for Diahann: I’m curious about your blog and memoir looking at the issue of how women suppress their true selves. Would you say that female TCKs have a particularly rough time dealing with identity issues (and the pressure to fit in) when they hit puberty?
Oh yes, I think having a nomadic childhood in general is great training to become an actor–many actors had nomadic childhoods (Kathleen Turner, Julianne Moore, Viggo Mortensen, Brendan Frasier, etc.).
I look forward to Diahann’s answer to your 2nd question. 🙂
Great questions, ML Awanohara! Absolutely to question one. For me, it became second nature to shift , like a chameleon, to blend in- and also to figure out what part of myself to reveal so I would belong. On a positive note, as Lisa noted below- it does make great training for acting.
Regarding your second question, I think that as females, the challenges of puberty are tough enough-but then add identity- and sometimes dealing with multiple cultures and their respective expectations and messages about beauty, sexuality, and worth on top of that-and it can be very ungrounding and confusing. Most young teen girls still look outside of themselves to see who they are and when the reflections keep changing depending on where in the world they happen to be, this can be very hard to process.
Also, in exploring my own journey that I’m writing about, I’m constantly struck w/ how much my TCk upbringing contributed to my openness and willingness to take the “trip” back to myself.
ML Awanora, as a fellow TCK I’d love to hear your thoughts on question 2- if you feel like sharing- I’ve actually never asked another TCKer what their experience was like and I’m very curious.
Ps. Excuse the misspelling of your name, ML Awanohara! — see last comment.
Hi again, Diahann. I’m not actually a TCK — I did all of my overseas travel as a young adult. But having had a rather sheltered childhood, I tend to refer to my two expat experiences (I lived for a long time in England and then in Japan) as my “formative years.” In any case, I definitely think that women who venture overseas confront more challenges, though I’m not sure why — are we more sensitive to cultural differences, more likely to incur prejudice, or a combo of both? That said, having seen Lisa’s one-woman show last night here in NYC, I must say, I don’t envy either of you going through puberty in other countries! The show was smashing, btw. Have you seen it?
Hmm… ML Awanohara… I wonder if it is because it is sometimes, when we switch cultures, the reflection staring back at us about how that culture treats/see women can be very different- and this can feel confusing and disruptive?
Yes- I’ve seen Lisa’s show twice and loved it both times– I found her work moving, inspiring, and healing… I was saying a lot of “me toos” in my head while watching her.
I love you guys. 🙂
I’m glad to have found this blog – having been raised as a global nomad myself. I’m a writer and would love to contribute at some point and also invite others to guest post on the Expat Files section of my website blog: firstname.lastname@example.org ( I hope I have that right – I’m traveling- and it could be “net” vs “com”!)
Also, I am planning to set up a blog tour to promote my new novel A Place in the World (which you might glean from the title is about a “displaced person”). Would it be possible to appear on The Displaced Nation in October ?
Hi, Cinda. Your novel, A Place in the World, sounds fascinating — will be in touch about featuring it. I can also see that TCKs in particular would appreciate. I found very moving this comment:
Hi ML – I do think it is very much a TCK novel – at least that is who it is attracting on Amazon – which I had hoped for. (I liked and related to that comment from a reader too!) Thanks for replying and thanks for checking out A PLACE IN THE WORLD. I would be glad to send you more information or discuss format. Hope to hear from you.