“Where are you from?” is a question we as immigrants both love being asked and dread answering. We love it because it gives us the opportunity to tell stories about the places we’ve explored and the cultures we’ve immersed ourselves in, and we dread it because the answer many times is “I don’t know”. For many people this question has a quick and easy answer, most commonly in a city or country – ”Born and raised there, it’s my home”. For us? We usually need the question to be elaborated on a little before we can give an answer we feel confident with. Do you want to know where my parents and extended family are from? Where I was born? Is it where I lived the most time or is it the place with the best memories? I don’t want to sound pompous so I don’t usually challenge the person to elaborate their otherwise innocent question, and consequently the answer tends to differ every time I’m asked.
Sometimes I think where I’m from is a reflection of who I’m talking to. To my Argentine family I am certainly from Argentina. To my Brazillian friends I’m Brazil – unless they’ve spoken with me long enough to hear me try to pronounce oil and eye in portuguese – that usually causes some doubts on how authentic of a Brazillian I am. To a European I might be English, as I was born there, until again I have a conversation with a Briton and it becomes evident I have studied at an American school long enough to lose the distinctive accent. It’s easier to convince an American I’m British for sure, all I need to do usually is say the word “water” to have them convinced. I can get away with telling people I’m Italian as far as I show them my passport and my last name, although it has been over a decade since I last practiced my italian in Milan – at the best I could as my 5-year-old self could. I have to admit I have yet to convince anyone that I am from Turkey, as my two years spent there have merely taught me how to say evet and teşekkür ederim – don’t ask me to pronounce that!
Although I sound American to a Briton, British to an American, Argentine and if I’m lucky Brazillian to a fellow Brazillian, it’s all part of the identity that I have the privilege to carry with me through my experiences and relationships. It may be hard to tell where I’m from, but it makes me proud to share interactions with people from different corners and connect with them through the many unexpected backgrounds we might share. It is extremely enriching to meet people from all walks of life, diverse in heritage, culture, ideology, or otherwise, because I can always leave the interaction with the confidence that I learned something from them. So: if you don’t need more than a second to tell me where you’re from, I challenge you: look for a piece of your identity, something within you or out in the world ready for you to grab, and embrace it as part of you. Whether you find it by traveling to an unexplored city, learning more about your spouse’s childhood in an unfamiliar country, or remembering stories about your grandparents’ travels across the globe, you’ll find joy in knowing that there is no need to view your country as a fort to defend at all costs from the rest – because you belong in many parts of the world, as do your friends, your family, and the friends you have yet to meet.
Remember: You and I don’t belong anywhere – we belong everywhere.