But where are you really from?

Adriana Green
Richmond, VA

Cornered in the grocery store, back pressed against stacked cans and rows of condiments – “But where are you really from?” On the subway, walking home, hair grabbed by a stranger in a pale coat – “What are you?” I spend my life defending my identity. The constant questioning: but, where, what. I’m from here, I say. I’m from right here, our land, our state, our country. I want to tell them that by rejecting my answers, shaking their head and asking, again and again, “No, no. But where are you really from?” they are telling me that I cannot belong.

Their words leak from their patient smiles, they are certain that I cannot come from the same place they do because we are so very different. To them, my curly hair and brown skin are incompatible with their lives, their land, their country – they are trying to steal my home from me without realizing they are robbing their own house. When you ask me, “But where are you really from?” I want to say – I’m from right here. I’m from this space between two people meeting for the first time who feel worlds apart. I’m from the difference between skin and the constant questioning of my parentage. I’m from a motherland that sometimes feels it’s easier to pretend I don’t exist and a fatherland that can’t always see itself in my smile.

I am from here, the gaps and grey spaces in our nation where people don’t quite belong. I am from the space between two patient smiles shared by strangers trying to convince each other that they exist. Friend. I am from right here, from the moment when two people who seem so very different, realize they are at heart the same- I promise you, this, is where I’m really from.

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2 Responses to "But where are you really from?"
  1. 55 years a Black Man says:

    This is extremely well-written and very correct. You are from here, this is your homeland. You are FROM where you are AT: HERE!!

  2. Johnny Vineyard says:

    You should say exactly that, but maybe a little less eloquently. It would certainly give them something to think about.

    Don’t blame racism totally in this case, though. Equally at fault is this American obsession with “not being” American. You hear things like, “I’m Irish on my mom’s side and German on my dad’s.” as if people are still somehow carrying around that heritage despite never being a part of it at all. And from my experience with people from Europe, it isn’t exactly well-received when Americans claim to be from that country.

    Until we allow that we are ourselves and not some lingering versions of our ancestors, this ignorance is going to continue. Me? I’m Southern American and proud of that. I don’t have a strong accent, but the culture goes all the way to my core. It doesn’t matter that my ancestors came from all over Europe and Native America hundreds of years ago. I’m no more American than a First-Generation Asian-American Who is Bilingual and Carries Strong Ties to Their Parents’ Homeland.

    What a mouthful; isn’t it easier just to say “American”?

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