Where are you from?

Where are you from? A question I often get asked, and one I like answering.
When I’m at home I use this world map to tell my story, it’s a great way of hearing others’ stories too.
I was born & brought up in India & the Netherlands. What’s your story? Do you have a world map in your home?

If I’m not at home and a stranger asks me this question ‘where are you from’, it depends on who’s asking whether I give the long or short version. It depends on the vibes being given off. I love giving the long version, if the other person is genuinely interested…after all that is truly who I am: born and brought up in different countries and lived in different places.
Sometimes when I give the short version and say, “I’m from the Netherlands” (the country I’ve lived in for most of my life), I get a second question along the lines, “but, where are you REALLY from.” This I consider a dumb response…as I doubt that they’re asking, “Where are you a local, where do you feel at home”, which, if that would have been the case, is an amazing question and way more engaging (check out the TEDtalk below).

A striking anecdote from the past:
I was inspecting an apartment to rent. The landlady asked me ‘where are you from?’ I told her I was Dutch. Her response was along the lines: “Oh, ik dacht dat je Marokkaanse was, vanwege je haar….maar dat is geen probleem hoor” [translates to: I thought you were Moroccan, because of your hair….but don’t worry that’s not a problem].

We all make assumptions when we see others in streets, shops, public transport, schools, offices etc. The question however is, how do we respond to our own prejudices and do we truly try to get to know or understand the other person or do we prefer to label and place in boxes?

Another quote that I loved in Taiye Selasi’s TEDtalk was a response to the question whether you want to ‘go back’ to the country you or your parents are from.
I can’t go back (neither can my father), because that country (he grew up in) no longer exists”. This is very true; countries and their cultures keep changing. For example, India now is very different from the India I knew in my teens. What does ‘going back’ imply? Does it mean you ‘don’t belong’ here? What is the story we tell each other about ourselves and what is the story we tell each other about ‘others’.

There is never a single story about a single place. The consequence of a single story is it creates stereotypes. The problem with stereotypes is not that it’s not true, but it’s an incomplete story”

Chimamanda Adichie [TedTalk: The danger of a single story]

Read more about what ‘belonging’ means to me, click here.

Published by shakti

Author of Colours of a Cultural Chameleon. Kindle & paperback available on Amazon

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