A loaded question, for some more than others. TCKs have long written about the difficulties answering this question – do I tell you where I was born? The long list of places I’ve lived? The last place I came from? How do you encapsulate in one answer the years, the places, the plans and trains and buses and hotels and houses and schools and people and loss and friends and learning and yearning?
I have been here so long my accent is barely detectable. Only the most keen eared can still recognize my origins. I am white. If I watch the words I use, lean in to my acquired accent a little more, I seamlessly fit in. I am white you see, living in a majority white country. If I were a person of colour I know I would be asked this so much more, but I blend in. If I don’t open my mouth it is assumed I am from here. My heritage, my history, my life, in one fell swooping assumption is erased. I joke that because my dad is from here I got a “get out of jail free” card in the form of a passport. People laugh along, but its true. Immigration detention centers are prisons. I am in a limbo between seeing myself as an immigrant, but being claimed by a nation I had nothing to do with until a few years ago. But this is home. I have been here longer than anywhere else. If this isn’t home, where is?
Answering that question to myself is never easy. I am more at home here than I have been anywhere else, but I am still keenly aware that I am not from here. I do not share the same upbringing, or cultural heritage as my peers. I am still hopelessly clueless about most pop culture. I have given up all hope of ever learning how the school system works. I do not want to be from here. I do not want to stay here. And I cannot say I am from here because my accent betrays me.
I am a from my life. I am not so naive as to say that I am a “global citizen”, a poetic concept that holds no real standing, designed, I believe, to make expats feel more elevated than their peers. Expat. If I am one then so is everyone that moved from their place of birth to another country. So is every immigrant, so is every dual citizen or international student, so is every asylum seeker and refugee. No, now I am an immigrant.
I am from my past. I am a culmination of my experience, the people I have met and lost, the places I have lived and seen. I am from the 22 houses, 23 moves, five countries, 18 schools, 7 towns and cities, and countless long haul flights and airports. I have no strong sense of national identity, and I have become good at faking national pride. How can you be proud of a place you don’t know? I love where I live but I hate it. I love where I was born but I don’t feel I can go back. I love all the places I have been, but they are not mine to return to. I love all the places I could go, but I resent that I have the privilege to make that decision while others do not.
I always feel strange when people ask me where I am from. Because I know I will not be told to go back where I came from. I will be believed. I will be received with a smile and a nod, or wide eyed surprise. I will not be told to go back to where I came from. But if I was, where would that be? I feel like I come from everywhere and nowhere.
I could say all this, but instead I don my usual smile and say “I’ve lived here for 8 years, but I’m originally from…”