My mother was born in Lima, Peru and later became a US citizen. My father was a third generation American. I self-identify as a Peruvian American. I consider myself bicultural. I had spent 4th and 5th grade in Venezuelan schools were even the English teachers didn’t know English. I was aware by this time that the fact that I could speak, read and write Spanish and knew who Simon Bolivar was what made me different from my peers in the US. I ironically watched my first episode of Star Trek after returning from Venezuela to the United States when I was ten on my first night in the US. I felt an instant kinship towards Spock but at ten could not intellectualize that we had a bicultural identity as a commonality. I have lived in ten countries for a period 26 years. I have taught course work on cross-cultural communication. I think my bilingual/bicultural heritage is a key factor in explaining why I thrive in international situations. This article will explore the permutations of bicultural identity in Star Trek characters.
Spock has a human mother and a Vulcan father, Sarek. The biological impossibility of two species from different planets having offspring via normal coitus is not explored in Star Trek TOS but is explained in the novel Spock’s World. Spock is product of Vulcan genetic engineering. Vulcans deal with emotion through extreme repression. There is a suggestion that emotion for a Vulcan is like alcohol for an alcoholic. Vulcans cannot handle a little emotion. A little emotion opens the flood gates and Vulcans are soon out of control. So extreme repression may make sense for Vulcans. The problem is that Spock is only half Vulcan and thus appears to have emotional needs that are at odds with his desire to be logical. Anyone watching the series and movies realizes that Spock is NOT logical but is trying to be logical and watching him struggle with his inner demons is interesting because the actor playing Spock, Leonard Nimoy, does this so well. Spock’s bicultural identity is central to his character.
Does Data belong on this list? Captain Picard tells Data that he is a “culture of one” that is no less valid than a culture of billions in the episode Birthright. Data is a culture of one in a culture of humans. Also, strictly speaking, Data is also not alone as an android. Lore is an android made before Data. I think Data’s bicultural identity rather than the usual robot trying to become a human plot line is what makes Data interesting. Captain Picard defends Data’s right to self-determination in The Measure of a Man when a scientist in Starfleet wants to dismantle Data. Data in turn can become more or less human by having an emotion chip installed.
However, like Vulcans, Data doesn’t seem able to handle a little emotion and loses control when the chip is installed. Data’s “brother” Lore was the first android built and emotion seems to have turned him into a villain. Data even has a daughter of sorts named Lal in the episode The Offspring. Lal dies due to cascade failure which is more or less the robotic equivalent of nervous breakdown and in the case of robots apparently leads to death. Emotions can literally kill androids and that is not the case with Vulcans.
Some of the same territory that was explored with Spock, reason versus emotion is explored again with Data. The difference is that Vulcans can have emotion but choose not to. Data can’t have emotion unless he uses a potentially dangerous emotion chip. This overlap of themes is explored in Unification. Spock informs Data that Data is more or less what Vulcans aspire to be. Same plot device but a slightly different take on the plot device.
3) Deanna Troi
Deanna Troi has a Betazoid mother, Lwaxana Troi, and a human father. Betazoids are telepaths. Deanna is only an empath. Deanna can sense the emotions of humans but not read minds. Lwaxana, the mom, likes to wander around the nude, and chase men. Deanna’s human side has problems with her mother’s colorful ways but the plot device most associated with Deanna is her telepathic powers. Deanna may only be an empath but this does not stop her from being the damsel in distress due to telepathic attacks from full telepaths most notably in Clues, and Violations. Deanna is certainly dressed for the part and in most of the series shows a bit of cleavage. Deanna also has big black eyes due to her Betazoid heritage. Deanna’s bicultural identity is less important than playing the role of a buxom damsel in distress.
Worf’s Klingon parents were killed by the Romulans and was raised by human parents on a human colony. Worf was around seven at the time. Despite being raised by humans, Worf did not assimilate and retained his Klingon cultural identity. As a Starfleet officer Worf wore a Klingon ceremonial sash. However, one was to assume that Worf did acculturate and his successful graduation from Starfleet Academy is proof of this. Initially Worf has an idealized view of Klingon culture. Worf thinks Klingons value honor over anything and is shocked that actually Klingons spout honor but pursue realpolitik.
In particular, Worf’s agrees to let his dead father accept the dishonor of a treasonous relationship with the Romulans rather than name the true culprits, the powerful Duras family in Sins of the Father. Exposing the truth would lead to civil war. Political expediency is more important than honor. When the embodiment of Klingon honor, Kahless returns and is exposed as a clone not the true Kahless, Worf again chooses expediency over honor in Rightful Heir. The false Kahless will act as the titular head of the Klingon Empire while real power will stay in the hands of Gowron. Gaining power and retaining order is more important to Klingons than ideals. This is something the viewers relate to.
When I was seven I thought President John F. Kennedy was a hero and cried when I heard he was assassinated while I was in elementary school. I later found out about the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy’s affairs, and his drug use. We have an idealized version of our national identity as youths which becomes more “realistic” over time. Worf’s bicultural identity is not the central conflict of the character but instead the central conflict is Worf’s realization that honor must be tempered by pragmatism.
Torres has a Klingon mother and a human father. Torres rejects her Klingon heritage to a great extent. However, she seems to have some anger management problems due to that heritage at the genetic level. Torres is split into a full-blooded human and a full-blooded Klingon in Faces. The Klingon Torres ends up saving the human Torres. The lesson of the Faces episode is that her Klingon side is not a deficit but a plus that gives her strength, courage and grit.
In Barge of the Dead, Torres has a near death experience and meets her Klingon mother in Klingon hell. The mother of Torres is in hell because Torres has rejected her Klingon heritage. In the end, Torres is reconciled with her Klingon heritage. Torres is the opposite of Worf. Worf embraces his Klingon identity while Torres rejects her Klingon heritage. In both cases, their bicultural identity is a part of what defines the character.
Seven of Nine provides a third person view of the human condition like Spock and Data (Poe, 2001). Seven of Nine explores the pros and cons of individualism versus collectivism. Human cultures do not neatly divide into logical versus emotional cultures. Perhaps cultures can be described as being warm versus cold and having different forms of emotional expression. The Spock/Data cultural dichotomy is very artificial. However, some societies are more collectivist than others and this is dealt with empirically by Hofstede.
The Borg have taken collectivism to a whole other level with their technology. Individuals are forcibly assimilated into a hive mind. This seems to be terrible. However, when Seven of Nine is forcibly cut off from the Borg hive mind she finds many disadvantages to the human condition. As a drone you have no fear or doubt, have purpose and do not experience loneliness. The hive mind Borg can do things a collection of individuals could never do regardless of teamwork. Seven of Nine makes a plausible argument that in many ways the Borg condition is superior to the human condition.
Merged humans are a topic of science fiction that is increasingly relevant as the internet expands. Is something like the Borg a possible future for humanity? Humanity faces extinction due to nuclear war, resource depletion and global warming. A merged humanity might be able to face these challenges.
There is a bit of a dominatrix in the Seven of Nine character. In some versions Seven of Nine does have a corset under her skin-tight costume and she is wearing four-inch heels. As a Borg, Seven of Nine has superhuman strength and intelligence. Seven of Nine does act in a domineering manner with fellow crew. Regardless of the obvious sexuality of Seven of Nine, her bicultural identity is a major part of her character.
Michael Burnham is the step sister of Spock! Michael was orphaned when Klingons attacked a Federation outpost and killed her parents. Michael was adopted by Sarek and raised as a Vulcan. While Spock is biologically a hybrid, Michael is genetically 100% human. I find the character of Michael Burnham implausible. I have a master’s in Educational Psychology and pretty much all research available shows extreme repression of emotions causes problems. Michael would have extreme feelings of loss due to the deaths of her parents and Sarek would be the last thing Michael would need. Michael would thrive in a loving household and be severely damaged in a cold Vulcan household. The adoption of Michael appears to be an experiment of sorts by Sarek. I cannot imagine the enlightened Federation allowing such a cruel experiment to go forward. However, I can accept an implausible character but not a boring one.
Michael is very Vulcan and logical in the first episode of the series and then reverts to being a human who happened to pick up some interesting Vulcan skills like Vulcan martial arts and limited telepathy while growing up. On the other hand, Michael is a rounded character not because of her bicultural identity but because she is a mutineer! The events and her personal history make her mutiny totally plausible and we have the first Star Trek protagonist who is an anti-hero!
Voq is a Klingon who undergoes surgery to pose as the human Tyler, chief of security for the USS Discovery. Voq’s surgery was extensive and painful surgery. The viewer infers that Voq was a great warrior to volunteer and withstand such surgery for the Klingon cause. Voq is a hero from a Klingon point of view while being a monster from a human point of view. Voq has human body parts on the outside and Klingon body parts on the inside and therefore must be considered a physical hybrid. Tyler, the human identity, is at first unaware of his Klingon identity. Tyler as Voq has killed the ship’s doctor secretly but Tyler remains unaware of this act until Episode 11, “The Wolf Inside” when Tyler becomes aware of the existence of Voq inside.
The Tyler side of Voq is suffering from extreme bicultural identity crisis! Tyler is guilt-ridden about the things that Voq has done! Voq/Ash Tyler is a Doctor Jekyll/Mister Hyde type character. Tyler is playing the part of the guilt-ridden Doctor Jekyll. Voq is Mister Hyde. As in the case of Mister Hyde, Voq has no guilt about his “terrible” actions.
Other bicultural Star Trek characters suffer from psychological distress while trying to integrate their bicultural backgrounds but the distress is a temporary challenge rather than a serious ongoing identity crisis. For example, Spock cries like a human in “The Naked Time” under the influence of some sort of drug that lowers inhibitions. Spock’s crisis is miniscule and fleeting compared to that of Voq/Ash Tyler.
The 15th episode and last episode of season one of the Discovery series, establishes that the Orion Syndicate, a criminal organization, has an outpost on Qo’noS, the home world of the Klingons. The Klingons have a pragmatic relationship with the Orions. A human that has both human and Klingon skill sets could find a place at the Orion Syndicate outpost. Even if that outpost is more or less the ghetto of the Star Trek universe.
Ultimately Tyler’s Klingon skill set helps save the Federation. Due to his redemptive actions, Tyler is allowed to go his own way at the Orion Outpost by Michael. Michael was/is in love with Tyler. Sarek points out the irony that Michael hates Klingons for killing her parents but ends up falling in love with a Klingon!
Could the fact that they shared a bicultural identity be one reason Michael and Tyler were attracted to each other in the first place? I personally find a kinship with other persons with a bicultural background. Michael is an example of integrative, positive Bicultural Identity. Tyler is the dark “mirror” image of Michael’s Bicultural Identity. One of the lessons of the first season of the Discovery series is that you don’t have to go to a mirror universe, as the Discovery does, to find dark mirrors! The larger question I would like to ask is can our soul mates not just be mirrors as commonly conceived but dark mirrors?
Bicultural identity is a central part of the Star Trek universe. Bicultural identity allows a third person view of the human condition. The only Star Trek series without a bicultural character was Star Trek: Enterprise. Star Trek: Enterprise was by far the least successful series of the Star Trek franchise and the lack of a bicultural character may be one the reasons for the poor reception of the series. The table below summarizes the findings of this article.