“Where are you from?”
Before entering university, this wasn’t a question that popped up frequently. We all seem to assume that our peers didn’t move here just to attend this elementary, middle, or high school. Or it seems like knowing where one originated from wasn’t really on anyone’s mind. Until university. For some reason, “where are you from” became the conversation starter, or the ice breaker that people automatically go to. And I mean, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a perfectly fine way to kick off the conversation because university does tend to be populated with people from around the world. But to me, it was a question I cringed at whenever asked. It was such a complicated question to me, a question more trouble than it’s worth. And I think a lot of second-gen multi-racial/ethnic kids can relate to this.
Where am I from?
Ethnically, I’m half Japanese-half Chinese. That’s a pretty unique mix, and it’s not uncommon for people to wittily and jokingly respond with something related to the historical bad blood between Japan and China. I used to find it awkward because it’s not really a joke…my parents don’t get along at all. But now it’s become slightly amusing, and it’s come to a point where I’m the one who feels guilty for making you feel guilty for making that remark LOL. But despite me being half Japanese-half Chinese, I definitely do feel a stronger connection with my Japanese background. It’s usually the case for kids to more strongly take on their maternal backgrounds, but it was even more emphasized for me due to the large separation between my parents. So, by blood, yes I’m half Chinese–but I’m ashamed to say so because I know barely any Mandarin, and am lacking so much knowledge on the Chinese culture. So, I would definitely consider myself more Japanese simply due to how I was raised.
But wait. To say I’m from Japan is a little weird and off. I’m Japanese, but I would never consider myself from Japan.
So let’s put aside ethnicity. Where is my home? As this question usually warrants a 3 second straight-forward response, I usually say Vancouver (my birth place) and let the conversation go on. However, when the person you’re talking to is from Vancouver, that’s when it gets a little tricky. They pull out the “oh me too!” and go on a bit about Vancouver that I am not at all familiar with. Why? Because I moved out of Vancouver at around age 4.
So, I decide to change my answer and go with a location where I spent 5 years growing up and learning English–Nottingham, England. Oh, but where’s my accent? Yea, I lost that precious gem of an accent 3 years after moving out of England. So, saying I’m from England seems a little inappropriate. So maybe I should go with Ottawa, which is where I moved to after England, and spent about 7 years of my life. But saying I’m from Ottawa always seems to leave a bit of an empty feeling in me. I never really explored Ottawa despite spending a huge chunk of time there, and I never felt that it was truly home. I still feel like a tourist when I go back to visit.
After Ottawa, I moved to Mississauga. This is when I started to explore my surroundings more and discover what the city has to offer. This is when I started to live my life out in the outdoors more (to those of you who know me, this is when I quit figure skating). Although I feel a stronger connection to ‘sauga than any other previous cities I have lived in, I only spent 4 years there…so is it acceptable to call it home? I was OK with it up until the end of second year, which was when we moved out of ‘sauga and no longer had a place there. That’s when I stopped providing ‘sauga as the response to where I’m from.
So…what now? By third year of university, I was so sick and tired of this question. It made me feel so lost and confused and unsure of what the correct answer was. Does it even matter where I’m from? Nowadays I just throw out one of the cities as my answer–whichever works best in that situation will do. So don’t be surprised if I’ve given you an answer that doesn’t seem to line up with what I’ve told other people.
I usually do like to keep this conversation starter brief and give you a simple one-worded answer. But sometimes I’ll lay out the full timeline, if they seem curious and ask about it, or if they seem like they have time on their hands. And everyone always gives me the same kind of response. “Oh, that’s so cool!” “Wow you’re so lucky you got to travel so much.” I guess it’s true that people are always envious of what they don’t have. To me, I wish I had a place I could confidently call home. But hearing these responses does make me appreciate that being able to travel around has shaped me in many positive ways.
Nevertheless, “Where are you from” will remain a question that I will forever and always be stumped on, for good or for bad.
photographer: Tien Chang IG: @sklervy