Where are you from? Part 6

Previously: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

I wonder what the future looks like.

I am thinking about what “where are you from” will mean in my family’s future. I wonder what it means even now, because we’ve all moved around a lot. My family is, by a combination of choice and being forced, as transnational as it gets, but we’ve all got a sense of where we’ve been. What will happen when we get further from those homes as the years go on? Will we belong in those places, or increasingly nowhere?

And I think that maybe I’m from no one physical location, but am located in this web of family relations existing ever ready to catch me and bounce me back if I get lost. We’ve been remarkable in keeping in touch all around the world across the years. But what happens if we stop? What happens if the passage of time, the lost information between generations, means that we lose touch with a branch of the family, and another, until we forget that we are elsewhere, too?

I hope we’ll always belong to our history, and to each other. That’s what I’ll be teaching my children when they realise their peers won’t quite let them belong. You belong with us, my dears.

I have plans to try and keep up with as many family members as I can reach, across language and national borders. I think that if I don’t, I’ll lose whatever chance I have to make solid and manageable this implacable yearning for home. These people are as close as it gets. This is how I belong, not where.

Where am I from? I don’t know, but I’m from us. I’m from my family, and I’m from those children who are going to learn their belonging from me.

10 comments for “Where are you from? Part 6

  1. April 4, 2011 at 9:53 am

    The world has very much been changed by the fact that we have become so peripatetic. This fact complicates long existent systems predicated on the assumption that people move to a place and put down long term roots. For a long time, we were born and died within the proximity of a few miles. This was true for my grandfather.

    Now we think nothing of uprooting and moving multiple times. I find that most people move multiple times chasing a job, education, or overall career advancement. But it makes my job coordinating activities and doing general outreach at my Meeting a huge challenge. And, complicated matters even further is a still sour job market, where people are having to take jobs wherever they can find them.

    I am not sure what the greater trend in that department is, but I am tempted to say that we will see more of it, not less.

  2. emily
    April 4, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    I haven’t commented on the rest of this series, because I’ve had a hard time – despite sometimes feeling like I’m swimming in privileges – identifying where I feel like I’m from. In this most recent segment, though, I feel like your idea here (a beautiful one, by the way) really hit it home for me:

    Despite outward appearances (blonde, blue-eyed, thin, ‘upper class’ – whatever the hell that means, cis-enough-that-it-doesn’t-seem-to-make-anyone-except-me-uncomfortable), both my ancestry (Jews) and my social experiences (autistic) are touched by otherness. Ideally, then, my family would have filled my childhood with messages of belonging despite otherness; everyone is ‘other’ in some way, so ideally I’d hope *everyone* would be sent this message that you at least belong at home. Instead, the message I got most often from home was that I should strive to fit in… despite years and years of finding that no matter how hard I tried, no matter my outward appearances, I still couldn’t quite get it. Where I’m from has always been my most intensely othering environment – to this day, despite having learned to really own my awkwardness and quirks in the rest of the world and not give a damn what most people think of me, I am still extremely self-conscious and sad around my family. Even though they love me.

    So yes, please: tell your children they belong with you! Tell them, and mean it, no matter how they turn out. Not that I think that you wouldn’t : )

  3. April 4, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    Thank you so much for this series, Chally. :)

  4. k not K
    April 4, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    I don’t worry too much about this for me, though I’m an immigrant. I may be changing cities soon and that’s bringing up some angst. But for the most part I am happy here even if I’m not “from” here.

    What I worry about is what will happen if/when I have kids here. Will it be enough to speak my native English to them and help them become bilingual that way? Or, in a country where 2nd generation immigrants’ native languages are usually considered a bit of a threat to integration, will they grow up thinking of their other mother tongue as weird and refuse to speak it to me? This is already happening with my neighbors’ kids; he’s half Spanish and always speaks Spanish to them, but ever since they got into preschool they answer back to him only in German. Being bilingual is already “eww” to them. It’s very sad to me!

    And then, I worry about how little time my children might be able to spend with my relatives. Will they have any connection to the US? Will they really know their Grandma, Grandpa and Uncle?

    All of these things are on my mind when I think about starting a family, so I do sympathize with you and your thoughts about family history and belonging, Chally.

  5. April 4, 2011 at 6:22 pm


  6. April 4, 2011 at 11:27 pm

    I’m not sure about my future. In one aspect, I see it as a bit of continuation of my past: I’ve followed, approximately, the same westward (US) path that my father’s siblings did. It makes me feel a little connected to that lineage and to my dad. In another, the people who run this place scare the eff out of me, and I’m not sure how long it’s safe and/or feasible for me to stay.

    That said, I’ve grown to love a lot of the people I’ve met in my day-to-day interactions. (And I think it’s relevant and not too arrogant to venture that some of them have become attached to me.) They are my future, at least as I see it now. Only, their attachment to this place is generally pretty different than is mine.

    But I’ve also known this attachment, this belonging, in another time and another place. It hurts to leave, but it doesn’t mean that roots can’t be transplanted. I’m from looking forward, and back, and around to the people I love. I’m from meeting people head up, face on, heart open.

  7. Kristen J.
    April 4, 2011 at 11:39 pm

    Family is the roughest connection for me. I know some of my family would like to include me in their community. But. I. just. can’t. They are part of a culture I don’t want to be a part of. The very idea makes me feel panicky. In that sense I guess I’ve alienated myself.

  8. --bill
    April 5, 2011 at 11:06 am

    @ComradeKevin–“we were once stable, now we move around a lot” is a very strong declinsion narrative, and needs to be approached with a bit of caution. Migrations happen quite often–in United States history (for example), the westward migration of white Americans during the 19th century and the forced migration of Native Americans, the migration of southern blacks to northern cities after World War I, the “white flight” of the sixties, are all movements of large numbers of people.

    Who moved, and why, are important questions in looking at the narrative of “we used to not move so much”. It is a strong narrative, and I think that many aspects of United States society assume the truth of this narrative (that a person has family `nearby’, for example). And so the truth of this assumption is tied into questions of race and class and many other things.

  9. April 6, 2011 at 7:50 am

    Beautiful post (as ever) :)

    I remember a friend once saying to me (if I’m quoting her correctly!) that her family’s migration had made home a lost place, and that lost place was home.


  10. Sarah
    April 8, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    To emily and Kristen J.–yes. Not everybody has that sense of family belonging, for some of us it gets broken. Growing up white and upper-middle-class, I was told that poor non-white males my age or younger were the ones to fear. My recurring nightmares of being raped by my father told me something different. Suffering from what my society told me was mental illness, I didn’t fit into the pleasant, polite world I was born into. It was easier for me to relate to people from poorer backgrounds because they tended to have more experience of pain, although I didn’t fit in completely with their culture either, not being born into it. I mostly find my sense of community within the psych survivor community nowadays–with others who hate the mental health system, I feel physically safe, a necessary prerequisite before I can even consider emotional bonding. Nevertheless I often feel rootless, even now. My not-quite-boyfriend wants me to move in with him, back to a geographical area I was born in and shaped by, but got sick of and fled from: New York, where my history is, where I can’t afford to live in any neighborhood that doesn’t have high levels of street harassment. “Please come home,” he tells me. He has no idea how much those words affect me: “Please come home.”

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