Answering "Where Are You From?"

By Erika Del Cid

The answers I’ve given in the chart above are truncated discussions I've had hundreds of times. The reply depends on who I’m talking to and where we are. However, if I had all the time and patience, I would rather have this as my answer: “I’m from many places because I am not just myself. I’m a result of many people and they are from many places. I was born in Virginia, which is now a part of the United States, but hasn’t always been. My family migrated from El Salvador, which was previously Cuzcatlán. My ancestors of many generations have been from what’s now El Salvador as well as places as far as Turkey. That’s where I’m from.”

The most important factor that determines my answer is where in the world I am. If I'm talking to a person from a Latin American country or background, they most likely know about El Salvador and know that many people migrate to the US, so I can give them more information without having to provide extra details. The opposite was true in India. Most people didn't believe that I was from the US because of my skin tone and thought that my family was from India. Even after I explained that my heritage was Salvadoran, people had never heard of El Salvador and so my background was still a mystery to most. After several months of trying, I started saying I was from Mexico, which I found was a more acceptable answer. 

All of these conversations that I've had do not answer why this is such a common question. Why do we ask 'where are you from'? Part of the reason could be plain curiosity, because I can look like or sound like I'm not from a specific place. Another part of it could be to compare how different or similar I am compared to the asker. But in all of these interactions, being from somewhere is strongly linked to the physical, the geographical. There are no considerations to what ideologies we may come from; how we come from a long line of many people; or how we can come from a specific context. This also doesn't consider migration, where people can be from somewhere but have moved once or many times so that answering the question becomes more difficult.

Answering gets more complicated when the place where you're from is not the same place you call home. Answering gets more complicated when you're from somewhere but you're not the norm. Answering gets more complicated when you've moved so much that you no longer have a sense of "home".