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America, January 5, 2004

So... Where Are You From?

Sell it! Sell it all!

Me in Hong Kong
Am I really rootless?
I travel light, really
Or just overpacked?

'Where are you from?'

This question has always given me pause. Why do people ask it? Do they want to know where I was born? Or where I grew up? Or where I live now? Will this somehow allow them to put me in a category, a box, and a stereotype that will reveal who I am?

So I usually answer that question with one of my own, 'What do you mean by that?' This always generates a pause, one that I use to guess what they're about to say to see if its any different. Usually it isn't, only the lame 'Okay so where were you born'.

This is where it gets fun. If I answer with Bali, Indonesia, I usually get a blank stare and then a 'Where?!'. It takes a ten-minute story just to explain how I came to be there, none of which says much about me but tells volumes about my folks.

Or they could ask the runner-up, 'Where did you grow up?' Then, do I say I am from Vero Beach, this little town my folks have lived in for the past twenty-five years? It is where I went to grade and high school, and where my Mom still lives, and so people could think of me as a small town on the Florida coast kid.

But I'm not. I may have surfed, know a croc from a gator, and say 'y'all' and yet who do you know from Florida that thinks or writes like me?

If they ask 'Where do you live now?' I can answer with DC. And if the questioner is black there would be a raised eyebrow and a second, more intense question, 'Really?' to ascertain if I was born there. Apparently, unless you've gone to Cardozo, you're not really DC.

I'm waiting for someone to say 'Okay, so where was your most formidable experience?' I would answer with Moscow, Russia, where I underwent the most massive shift in my mental state. I left the USA a whelp, a little puppy, and after two years of -30C winters, a liter of vodka a day, and writing for this website, I crossed the Sino-Soviet border a man. A travel the world cuz it's there man. Yet, I am not Russian.

Or they could surprise me with 'Where did you find you last great love.' That would be easy, as I met Jingmei in Beijing, China. Yes, she counts as my last great love even if we are divorced now. The 'Big D' does not erase what we felt then. It would make Beijing hard to say though if the questioner were a young hottie. And I am defiantly not Chinese.

Then I guess I'm not really from anywhere then. I just am. See my quandary?

So... where are you from?

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1 Comment

it is pretty cool to be able to live like you. travel a lot and make things happen. a more important question is maybe whether you are at the place, where you want to be, presently. while some like you know exact answer to this question, some like me do not. but i do not lose hope to figure out where i want to be from.

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