Have you ever been asked, “Where are you from?” If you have never been asked this question I really envy you. Well, to the infinite times I have been asked this question, I have not come up with the right answer or even the same answer! It is actually a combat mechanism to deal with dilemmas of cultural appropriation and cultural nuances-do not answer the question.
If you are a person of colour, I am sure you have been asked this question no matter who or where you are. I am not intending to talk about racism or discrimination. I genuinely yearn to know two things; number 1-why do people ask this question? And number 2-how to answer this question?
“Where are you from?”
Let me discuss the first question: Why do people ask, “where are you from?” I personally think that they just want to remind you that you are not what they expected. So could be a compliment, a shock reaction or even an insult. Infact could even be a hint of microaggression towards you! Other reasons could be lack of civilised education, lack of understanding of diversity and of course the tendency of being the frog in the well. The world to the frog is only the well hence anyone outside the well either does not exist or should not exist. The irony of the question is such that most people who have asked me are my country cousins-Indians. I would never ask anyone a question like this as I feel it does not tell us anything about that person and I strongly believe it is unnecessary. Belonging to a certain place, city, region or country has nothing to do with what you are, who you are, or how you will be. This question is asked by people who are judgemental and have a fixed mindset. My son gets asked this question over and over again as he speaks many languages and likes to use specific languages in specific instances or with specific people. That is his choice, not identity. People love to put you in a defined boundary so they can start forming opinions about you and feel safe in their narrow alleyways of defined boundaries.
The second question-how to answer the question? Whenever I am asked this question, I always avoid answering it, as I am not comfortable confining myself to the way I look, speak or to the place I belong. Another reason the moment I say I am from India, the conversation radically moves to spicy food, colourful clothes or yoga and many a time even to Kamasutra depending on how much alcohol has been consumed. The point I am trying to make is that there is no further conversation after the question has been asked. It’s always awkward silence or awkward banter, hence I try to avoid both by smiling politely and not answering the question. It’s not that I do not want to answer the question. I am extremely proud of my identity but that cannot be defined by a place, region or country. So ask me something I will be interested in answering, for example, how many languages do you speak? What are your interests? If you really want to know “where I am from?”
Our age-old obsession with nationality, patriotism, gender and skin colour has crippled us from developing self-identities. To the extent that it is defined as soon as we are born; whose child; what country; what gender? Hence developing self-identity is the biggest struggle we undertake as human beings, always a hurdle to overcome in the short race of life. If we stop asking and judging where people are from, it could be the first step towards being human.