Last week I discussed my racial heritage and the difficulties explaining my background in hopes that others could relate. Today I’m focusing on one question in particular that usually initiates those conversations.
“But where are you really from?”
If you are a person of colour, have a non- Canadian accent (if you have never travelled outside of Canada, trust me there is one), or have a non-anglo/Christian name there is 99 – 99.9 percent chance that you have been asked this question. You might wonder why someone would ask you this. Is it any of the three reasons above.
When you travel abroad this question comes up immediately. It can be a great conversation starter, one that opens up discussions about similarities and differences. It has saved me at times declaring that I’m Canadian and not American. Backpackers know how important this is, sewing flags onto their jackets and bags making it clear especially during 2001 – 2008 and from now until god knows when that you do not pledge allegiance to the “cheeto in charge”.
Some people accuse me of talking about race too much. In the year of our Lord, 2018, it is still conservative white Canadians that make up the majority of positions of power who decide how I can spend my time, where i live, whether I get hired or fired, the purchases I make, how and where I travel, and whether I live or die.
So for a change I’m going to talk about someone who is as white as rice pudding, who can’t tan without burning first, and who can’t pronounce “beer can” without it sounding like “bacon” in patois: my partner Kelly. She is white, has a British accent, and hates. HATES. Hates it when people ask her where’s she’s from.
Kelly has lived in Canada since the early 90’s. She is a Canadian citizen. She has a child who is now a young adult. She pays her taxes. She works hard. And yet she still doesn’t feel at home here. People still treat her like she is an outsider. That she doesn’t belong. And after all this time, she’s exhausted.
When someone asks you “where you are from?” it can feel that “here” is a place that is the norm and anywhere else is not. Is this accepted when you go to say Cuba? The vast majority of Cubans are dark skinned and Spanish speaking. You know that and your host knows that. It is agreed upon. You are just a guest.
In North America and for the most part Northern Europe where we pride ourselves on open borders and multiculturalism ,can and should this question be considered a burden. I’ve asked before what does it mean to be Canadian? Where does it matter where you are from? People have migrated and have been forcibly displaced for centuries. My family left India to call England home. They left England to call Canada home. I may leave this country with my family and call somewhere else home. Maybe the question should be reframed: Now that you are here, where are WE going?. Together.
In the essay “Where Are You Really From”, Zara Rahman not only explores these issues but questions how our answers are used in “Cyberspace” and how that information is disseminated and potentially used to cause more harm than good.
Please read below.