Where are you from? Part 2

Previously: Part 1.

Just asking some questions by way of bringing the thinking behind where one might be from to light…

How do you figure “fromness”? If you’re ever asked where you’re from, how do you answer?

Is it a matter of…
where you are?
where you’re a citizen?
where you identity as someone who belongs?
where you were born?
where your people are from?
where you’ve felt like you’ve belonged?
where you spent the longest stretches of time?

A year ago, following on from Jill’s 2007 post, I asked you ‘where you’re from and, if it differs, where you live’ in Feministe All Over the World Redux. With Lauren, we made a map of the most magical places we know, and with Ariel we plotted the places about which we feel strongly. For the posts Jill and I wrote, what kinds of thought processes went into responders’ determinations of where they’re from? For Lauren’s and Ariel’s, are those places ones we feel we can belong to, or belong to us, or do those magical and emotive qualities make them far off from “fromness”? Are the magical places of our lives, those invested with feeling, here, or where we’re “from,” or inevitably somewhere else? How do we value where we’re from, and where we are? Are our places beautiful or mundane?

“Fromness” doesn’t particularly need to be national, of course. Perhaps it’s about belonging to a specific region or town or even building. It doesn’t have to be about a place, even. Perhaps you’re from a group of people. Because the idea of home can be as much about people as place; with whom do you belong might even be more important than the where of it. Home is where the heart is, after all.

What’s important in determining where you’re from?

25 comments for “Where are you from? Part 2

  1. March 7, 2011 at 1:53 am

    I just want to note that I’d pretty much written this entire series before I posted the first post, but it’s amazing to see how many similar thoughts were going through other people’s heads on the last thread!

  2. k not K
    March 7, 2011 at 3:30 am

    I’m from the US, and I’m from the Inland NW, and I’m from my hometown. In fact I think I might get a tattoo based on the region I’m from, at some point in my life. Even though I do not want to go back to my hometown, I feel like being from there is something immutable about me.

    For example, I keep trying to figure out my relationship to the neighborhood I live in now – I’ve been here for 5 years, and I feel very at home here. But I still don’t feel at all like I’m “from” here… in fact if I tried to say that, I’d feel like a fraud of some sort. I can’t just change where I’m from.

  3. z
    March 7, 2011 at 3:44 am

    I have a canned answer to that question that I give every time – “I was born in Russia, but I live in California” – that I feel really uncomfortable not giving in full, I guess because it’s so easy for the Russia part to get erased (and people tend to find it interesting), but if I don’t mention California there will be serious misconceptions. So that covers the place I was born and the place I’ve lived for most of my life. I’m also lucky enough to be a citizen of both countries, but that’s a legal thing that – I think – isn’t that important to my self-identification.

    Now, although I think of my current school (out of state) as a kind of home, I don’t tend to mention that in response to “where are you from?” questions. I guess that’s because normally I hear the question *at* school, so it wouldn’t make sense; but even elsewhere, like, I identify with this school, but it’s understood as something transient that I can’t really be *from*. I’m just half-based there at this point in my life.

  4. March 7, 2011 at 4:42 am

    I generally answer with, “Which bit of the long story do you want” to this question and see what comes up. I’m *from* Alice Springs (my spiritual home), but was born in Victoria, before moving to Alice Springs, then Bendigo and then Melbourne.

    Where I feel I fit the best when growing up is the most important place to me. I became an individual (ie I spent my formative years) in Alice Springs, I connected with people, places and stories there. I *live* in Melbourne, and love living in Melbourne, but I have such a sense of going home whenever I visit Alice Springs.

  5. tim f
    March 7, 2011 at 5:23 am

    To confuse things, in South Sudan where I spent some time last year, “where are you from?” can also mean “where are you going?”! And “where are you going?” can mean where have you just been. I like the idea that where you’re heading tells you more about where you’re coming from than any formal signifier. Can make conversations difficult, though. “Where are you going? No, I mean where are you going?” etc etc

    Of course, where are you from can also mean “Who has sent you?”, “Who do you work for”, “What group or organisation are you affiliated with” and more.

  6. March 7, 2011 at 6:23 am

    I’m from the U.S., lifelong Midwesterner. When I was younger, I assumed I’d “get out,” but my family’s here and right now, they need me.

    Although the city I live in isn’t, my state is very conservative. (Blue dot in an otherwise red state.) And it’s full of the problems that come with living in a conservative state (draconian abortion policies informed by religious beliefs, gay marriage doesn’t seem to be even a remote possibility, etc.). Even though there’s definitely a community a people working for social change, there’s also a lot of denial going on. I take no pride in where I’m from in that respect: I can’t.

  7. March 7, 2011 at 8:05 am

    I do feel like a DC resident, finally, though it took most of two years to reach it. There are parts of this city I really enjoy. There is so much more to do here than in the city of my birth, the cultural advantages are greater, and I’m fortunate to be around lots of people who are very similar to me.

    The drawbacks are that this city has a tendency to work itself into the ground, to be Type A to its own detriment, and to place an extremely excessive focus on instant results, when pacing and realistic expectations would be greater served. So I reject that aspect of it outright, but still find many other things that redeem my reservations.

  8. March 7, 2011 at 8:16 am

    I always define as being “from” Yorkshire, even though I haven’t lived there in a long time and most of the obvious ties to it (such as accent) have been subsumed. I was born there (a fact I which I took great pride when I was younger, since it meant I was qualified to play for Yorkshire county cricket club – but they abandoned that rule and caught up with the 20th century, much to my dismay!), and it’s where my father’s folks lived for a long time, and it’s where I feel most spiritually “at home”. But where I live now, the Wealden, is also a place to which I have grown to feel spiritually attached – I grew up here and I’ve settled here, and I love this land.

    So my sense of “fromness” is divided between the two. I say “I’m from Yorkshire” at least in part to emphasise the connection with where I’m not – because I live here in the Wealden area my connection is more obvious.

  9. March 7, 2011 at 9:43 am

    If I’m asked casually, particularly when I’m visiting a country where English is not the primary language, I tend to just say “British” because that’s what it says on my passport. Native English speakers, though, tend to request the full story as soon as I open my mouth, because my accent is such a weird hybrid of English, Scottish, and American. People like to turn it into a guessing game. I quite like that, because it allows me to own my transnational identity, which for me spans all the places I’ve ever lived, as well as my ancestry from several European Jewish communities. The fact that my accent doesn’t sound quite like anyone else’s reflects my unique fromness.

    The truth is, though, that many other aspects of my identity – queer, feminist, radical progressive, Christian, geek – are much more important in defining myself than any nebulous sense of “where I’m from”.

  10. March 7, 2011 at 10:13 am

    To quote Lilo and Stitch: “Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind, or forgotten.”

    “Where I’m from” is my college, because it’s the place where I have real family.

  11. March 7, 2011 at 10:28 am

    For me, it’s more about the present than the past, because I feel more connected to my present world than to anything in my past. If someone asks where I was born, I can tell them. If someone asks where I grew up, I can tell them that too. If someone asks where I spent 20 years of my adult life, that’s yet another answer. But I am most connected where I am now and have been for 16 years. So for me, where I am, where I am a citizen, where I feel I belong are all factors in determining my “fromness.” This is where my partner and I live, where we own a house, where we know our neighbours, where we vote. So we don’t just live here. We’re from here. My past is part of who I am, but it’s more of historical interest than anything else. I don’t feel like I’m “from” anywhere back there, except possibly my point of origin.

  12. Girl from Ontario
    March 7, 2011 at 10:38 am

    I’ve spent my whole life in the same city, but I long to live elsewhere. I guess when I find that place, that will be where I’m from.

  13. Sho
    March 7, 2011 at 11:36 am

    Hi Chally, your questions had arisen so many thoughts in me, that I had to dedicate a whole blog post about it: http://turning20corners.wordpress.com/2011/03/07/on-belonging/

    Which resulted in one of my best friends, and co-blogger to follow suit: http://turning20corners.wordpress.com/2011/03/07/taking-shos-cue-on-belonging/

    So here’s our take, two very different friends from India. :)

  14. Allison
    March 7, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    I identify as from a specific region and to a lesser extent, a town; where I was born, where I lived for eighteen years, where I return to twice a year. That’s where I’m from. I like to live elsewhere but going there helps me reground myself or whatever.

  15. March 7, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    I don’t feel as if I’m from anywhere, particularly. I’ll say the town I spent my first few years of life in but to me, “fromness” implies somewhere you feel connected to. If you don’t feel a connection, you can almost be from nowhere.

    If I was from anything it would be my family (which comprised of my mother). Once I go overseas I imagine being Australian will matter more and be my point of origin.

  16. Florence
    March 7, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    I’m also a lifelong Midwesterner and live in the same town I grew up in less than ten miles from my childhood home. If you asked me where I was from, I’d give you the entire region because it’s as much about being from a certain place as it is about a certain geography and landscape. I’m from a place where there are miles and miles of cornfields and forests that turn gold in the fall, and miles and miles of rivers running from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, red painted barns and white painted houses, flatlands, blue skies, and pastoral sunsets. Barn cats, speckled ponies, red-tailed hawks, Holstein cows, cardinals, bluejays, and working dogs. Know what I mean?

  17. Kyra
    March 7, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    That’s a question with many answers for me. In no particular order:

    From my hometown and the surrounding small region of my state, which grows and contracts with my mood. This is where I was born, grew up, and hope to keep as my primary home all my life.

    From my home area that is the home of certain hobbies and interests and recreational activities of mine. All the state parks in my state are home, even the ones I’ve not been to. Certain festivals, fairs, and shows are home; the areas they are located in are also home, because they exist there.

    From Norway, where my mom’s family came from, and from Germany, where my dad’s family came from, with the rest of Europe also being home in a slightly lesser sense because of some ancestors who were not Norwegian or German, but from other places in Europe.

    From Earth, the whole planet is my home—this may come in part from reading a lot of multiple-planet sci-fi, and in part from that I’m not the sort that gets homesick—while my current location for many reasons is my predominant home, when visiting most of the rest of the Earth, I am reasonably at home there in short order. Red rock slot canyons in the American Southwest, beaches in Thailand, anything.

    There is some nebulous attachment to the Great Rift Valley region as the birthplace of humanity, a sense that all humans come from there, and another similar attachment to water, to the oceans, as where life began in the first place. These are a more private, internal sense of home, not something I tell people “I’m from here.”

    In a religious sense, I am from the Goddess, and also from the Christian tradition in which I was born and raised, and from the traditions that preceded that and gave birth to it.

    I am also from myself, and from everything I’ve read and thought about; I am from my favorite authors, from my favorite philosophers, from my teachers. Even from the not-favorite or disliked of the above, because they also shaped me. Who I am is from all these.

    I am from my family and my extended family, from America with its good and bad history, from the West with its good and bad history, from the Earth, from humanity. I am from the things that made me scared, the things that hurt me, the things that love and loved me, the things that nurtured me.

    I am from thirteen-sixteenths of a fine-arts degree, from years of laziness and selfishness and ignorance, from days of hard work both when it was drudgery and when it was rewarding, from thousands of hours of pointless TV-watching and internet-gaming and thousands of hours of reading, research, thought, and from thousands of hours of creating. I am from snowstorms and cold which I hated, and from summer thunderstorms that I couldn’t get enough of even when they turned dangerous. I am from the driver’s seat of a 1985 Mercury Grand Marquis which I loved with all my heart; I am from the love of four cats. I am from utter terror at meeting people, and I am from slow relaxation and joy at knowing them. I am from the heat of kilns, and from the heat of steam boilers, and from the powdery-and-mucky-by-turns mixing of new clay, and from the paint studio, and from the photography darkroom, and from the internet and from the computer.

    And I am from many other things that I don’t have time at the moment to say, because as I said, I’m from winters and snowstorms, and one of the latter needs digging out from.

  18. March 7, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    I tend to name the town I grew up in, Carmel, though I only lived there for 12 years (between ages six and eighteen.) I have a British and American passport, and family scattered many places. I’ve learned that while I’ve lived the vast majority of my life in California, I adapt easily to new places. My wife jokes that with few exceptions, the first thing I say when I get to a new place is “I could live here.”

    I am a fundamentally urban person. I like retreats to the green and the quiet for a weekend, but I like cities. I like Los Angeles and I like London, and would rather live in either than in small-town America or small-town England. I am most at home in the places where everyone is from somewhere else, like thriving urban centers.

  19. Kaz
    March 8, 2011 at 7:27 am

    It’s been interesting to me seeing the various notions of “fromness” in play, and for instance also the degree of regional specifity. Ex, my main answer to this question is “Germany”, so for me it’s national/national cultural identity that’s most important (by “national cultural” I mean, my cultural identity as German is very important to me but specifying which of different German cultures, so e.g. making clear that I’m northern/western German from a culturally Lutheran Protestant background and for instance not from Bavaria from a Catholic background, is less important. Partially because hardly anyone will know what those things entail anyway. :/ also, national identity not citizenship as I’m a citizen of the US but don’t consider myself from there at all). A lot of people didn’t seem to identify strongly with a country or, at least, not have that be the first thing that came to their mind, preferring to express it in terms of towns and areas. And I probably would too if I’d actually lived in Germany all my life instead of being a constant foreigner. So for me, it’s… I’m from Germany because I have so many memories of being the weird kid who’d moved over from a different country, who spoke a different language at home and in fact couldn’t always speak English, who celebrated some different holidays and other holidays differently (so many issues with Christmas I don’t even-), who read different books and ate different foods and who even looked different from the others. Who always got introduced to other Germans as “they’re like us.” Regional identity doesn’t come into that, next to being complicated anyway.

    Similarly, a lot of people are going deeper in terms of where they felt they *belonged*/felt most at home, which for me would actually be Cambridge (England) where I did a Master’s for a year and which was the first time I met a group of people in real life where I felt we actually had real interests in common, but I can’t say I’m from there because I’m *German* and saying I’m from anywhere but Germany makes me feel as if I’m rejecting that identity and cue freak-out. So that wasn’t even a definition I considered.

  20. EL
    March 8, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    I’m from New York City. I was born here, I went to school here, and now I work here. For me, it’s easy to say where I’m from.

    A lot of Americans move to New York in their 20s, for work or because they think it sounds glamorous, and they almost immediately start referring to themselves as New Yorkers. And that makes me really angry. These people rarely mingle with long-term New Yorkers; rather, they move to New York and try to turn it into New Connecticut. They learn nothing about where they’re living. In their ignorance, they pay way too much for food and rent and force the prices up for everyone else. They complain about the way we do things. They ruin a neighborhood and move away after five years. And from the minute they move here until the minute they leave, they refer to themselves as New Yorkers.

    I have asked people why they do this. One woman from West Virginia told me that she calls herself a New Yorker because if she told people where she was actually from, they would immediately assume she was racist. I said that maybe if reasonable people from West Virginia would admit to being from there, perceptions of that state would change.

    I don’t particularly mind that this woman describes herself as a New Yorker. It doesn’t affect me in any real way. But she doesn’t seem to realize that what she says is simply not true. I could easily describe myself as a convicted felon or an Olympic gold-medalist, but I’d be lying. Doesn’t anybody care about the truth when they tell people where they’re from?

    I don’t feel any antipathy towards people who immigrate to New York from other countries. New York has been an immigrant city for hundreds of years, and that’s part of what gives it its flavor. Attending public schools in New York, almost all of my classmates were either immigrants or first-generation. Now, all these out-of-towners move into immigrant neighborhoods and refuse to interact with immigrants, and they just make New York suck.

  21. Ada
    March 9, 2011 at 9:37 am

    When I was younger I used to think of myself as French and only French, as I’ve lived in France most of my life and me and both my parents are citizens. I think I might never have got beyond that if it wasn’t for people constantly misracialising me — many people think I’m North African, and some think I’m Asian. That’s what led me to dig deeper into my Spanish roots. So I guess the other people’s opinions really mattered in defining my own “from-ness”. That’s what prompted me to take up Spanish and decide to go there to visit.
    My sister on the other hand is much whiter than I am, and has lighter hair and more European features. Since no one has ever thought she wasn’t French and only French, it’s never really bothered her, and I’m pretty sure she’d never say she’s from Spain in any way.

  22. Cait
    March 10, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    My squinty eyes and hardy liver and last name say Ireland, from a family of lathe workers. My accent says Phila, PA, parents born and raised in Kensignton, lucky me, we got out, 16 years in the middle class before we were unceremoniously hustled out by the bank back where we came from. I’m from Route One, Bucks County, from the space behind the skating rink where we’d sneak smokes and stare at stars. I’m from the back of the short bus, with the other “retards”, face pressed into the seat, blocking oncoming fists. I’m from Street Road, walking to get the bus to work; two buses, one job. I’m from countless zones of familial discontent, from schools where preachers wobbled their bodies and shook tambourines and spoke in intelligible tongues, from bare paneled rooms where we’d lie on the floor in silent narcotized ecstasy. I’m a 21 century American nomad–restlessly roaming electronic landscapes of music, rhetoric, philosophy, still always searching for home.

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