Normally, I have been very easy-going with this question and haven’t seen any double meaning in it or ignorant tries to put me in a box as one of my friends does. Yesterday, however, my attitude shifted. For the hundredth time, I heard this so familiar question but instead of giving a friendly answer with a smile on my face, I got puzzled for the moment and then suddenly became overwhelmed with negative emotions, which in the end made me look at this question in a different way.
I was working in a very small team of young Germans at a refugee camp. With one girl we exchanged a few words at the beginning, to be precise, she asked me how I found this project and what exactly I was doing there. Then after hours of intense work we found ourselves standing next to each other again and the first phrase she addressed me with was ‘Where are you from?’ The girl didn’t even know my name for god’s sake! I stood there speechless trying to figure out how I should react. The only thing I wanted to shoot back was a derisive ‘Is that the only thing which is relevant about me? Does this define me?’ Thoughts about boxes and ignorance were floating in my head.. In the end I replied with a cold ‘From Belarus’ as I needed time for myself to figure our why I suddenly felt attacked. Plus, I didn’t want my sharp comment to break the teamgeist. I also remembered that often I was the one who stood up for such people saying that they’d asked this question out of pure curiosity, nothing more, and nothing evil.
However, if you are the one asking this question you might think twice before doing so again. This probably sounds strange and you think I am making a mountain out of a molehill but this problem is a very subtle one and you will be able to fully grasp it only if you yourself make similar experiences.
–> When one has been living in a country for years trying to build his or her life there; when one wants to be a part of a big puzzle but keeps being asked again and again ‘Where are you from?’ as if it were the most essential piece of information about the person, this disappoints and discourages.
! I am not the embodiment of the aforementioned nation, nor am I a fictive construction you build in your mind hearing about my country of origin. I am a complex personality and I want to be seen as such! There are lots of us, actually.
Food for thought.