Friday, June 17, 2011

Where Are You From?

I hate this question. I understand why people ask, but I hate it just the same. I know, for some people it is a pretty straight forward response but for someone like me, having grown up in a mixture of cultures and values, it is not easy. Add to that the fact that some people believe that where you are from determines who you are and what you stand for, it becomes a contentious issue.

A recurring conversation I've had:
Where are you from?
But where were you born?
In the Middle East, Kuwait actually.
Okay... but where are your parents from?

So, where am I from? What does "from" even mean? I have no idea, I'm from everywhere and nowhere. Identity is such a funny thing. I find myself in situations where I relate to what is convenient to me. For example, sometimes I am so proud of being Bengali - I'll post messages on Facebook celebrating different cultural milestones. I can speak Bangla, a language that my father fought for in the Bangladesh Liberation War. But there have been times where I have walked into a shop, and I can hear them speaking Bangla and I secretly hope they can't tell I'm one of them. I'm not sure what it means, to be Bengali and Canadian, of when I accept which part. I thought it was okay to be a mutt, but when someone probes further it makes me feel culturally homeless.

I would consider myself a global citizen. I think global citizenship is the new way of the world, with cross-cultural sharing and evolving immigration patterns. Global citizenship allows for a complex understanding of differences in cultures, languages and people in general. It allows for integration of cultures, religions, ideas and language in society. It breaks down the walls of stereotypes, racism and discrimination. For me, it's given me the opportunity to learn so much about people and question why people think what they do, like what they do, believe what they do. My multinationality (which should really be a word) has allowed me to really consider what I believe because I believe it and not because I was conditioned to think it.

But at other times, it's hard. To not identify wholly with any particular culture makes you feel sort of without a home. A sense of belonging that isn't there, never knowing which flag is yours because your situation is unique. And although I know many family friends share an understanding of this, our experiences are still so different, based on which parts of which cultures we've picked up or discarded. I think though, more than anything, being in London makes me feel Canadian.

To me being Canadian means I can still be Bengali, born in the Middle East and living in Canada. It gives me the option to keep the other parts of me and still identify with one nation. And so when someone probes me further than me saying I'm Canadian, it annoys me. To have to defend this as a nationality because I may not look like a "typical Canadian." At the same time, I recognize that I am not completely Canadian, because although my passport is from there, my history is not. Perhaps someone whose family has been in Canada for generations does not appreciate being painted by the same brush as me. It's hard to know what makes someone from somewhere.

I'm not sure I'm any further in understanding "where I'm from," but as difficult as it is to define, it's interesting to consider.


  1. I just realized that when I moved back home, I'll also be adding "American" to my cultural make up. Even though I don't have the citizenship, living in California for 4 years have definitely shaped me and made re-evaluate yet again who I am... I guess that's part of being a global citizen. It's a constantly shifting, dynamic concept.

  2. I actually thought about you a lot while writing this, well of course because I know you've dealt with it differently than me as you were older when we left Kuwait so it was more your home than it was ever mine, but you still spent so much time in Canada, then Bangladesh again and now the US. I guess it's good we're not static at least!