You would think that with full-blown globalization hitting us from every corner and intercultural being more than just a trend word but rather a reality, a question such as "where are you from?" would be outdated. Well, it isn't.... I've always had a hard time dealing with this question and used to have an inferiority complex for not being able to answer it straightforward. A perfect stranger would ask me this, hoping for some smalltalk with no malice intended, and I would simply sink in to a deep depression manifested by an utter identity crisis, prompting me to shout "I don't know! Leave me alone". Ok, that's exaggerated, but in essence that's it.
A while back I realized I wasn't alone. For one, there was my sister. And then I found out there was even a term for us "Third Culture Kids". We're more than just halfies. We're thirdies, quarties or more....
Where are you from? can generate some interesting answers:
I love it when people argue with me as to where I'm from.
"No you can't be Chinese, you sound American!"
"Actually by nationality I'm British, but my parents are both Chinese."
"So you're not American?"
"Not really, no."
"Are you Canadian then?"
"Are you SURE?"
When I am asked this question here in the US, I tend to say "I am from France", since I first came here as an exchange student from a French University. When I am asked where in France... that's when it gets complicated. My parents are living in Paris, so I would go with that. If the person asks me where I was born though... ugh! Brazil. "Oh, wow!" is the usual reaction; since I live in South Texas, people eventually speak Spanish at one point, and I will reply in the language. Ugh again. "Oh my, how come you speak Spanish? Cause you were born in Brazil?" UGH! No, Portuguese is the official language in Brazil. I speak Spanish because my Mom is from Spain, and so am I. Last and most common question: "Where is your last name from?"... triple ugh! Russia. My father's family migrated from Russia to France before WWII. At that point, the person is completely lost and will 1) either try to repeat all I said (and fail); 2) or just make a grumpy look and throw a "oook..." (hence, he/she did not follow what I said).
"Your accent, you're American right?"
Me: "Uhm no"
"Really? You sound like a California girl"
Me: "I was born in Japan, but I spent most of my childhood in South America"
"But your English..."
Me: "International School and then college in the states"
"Ah! That's the Californian accent"
Me: "Actually New York City. (sigh)"
"And now you live in Japan where you are really from?"
Me: "I was only born in Japan, the rest of the time was just me wandering this magical planet....it's only one planet after all."
"Now I'm really confused"
Other possible answers:
- Somewhere out there
- Do you want the long or the short version?
- Pick a country - any country!
- Are you where I was born, where I grew up, where my parents are from or what kind of passport I have?
- When I find out I'll let you know
- Um, it's kind of hard to explain
- Do you have enough time for this?
- You know, I wish I knew
- Um, it depends
- I don't know
Nowadays I can answer this question in my sleep and often I just let D. explain it for me. I still feel confused and non-belonging at times. But I have accepted it. I see envy in people's eyes when they hear my story. I envy them for knowing exactly where they belong. We all want what we don't have.