“Where are you from?”
This is probably one of the most despised questions MK’s are asked. Are you asking me where my family originates from? Where I spent most of my childhood? Where my parents grew up? Where do I feel most at home? Where I’m currently living? Where my passport says I’m from? Where I was born? Or something completely different?
Each of these underlying questions could have completely different answers. Thus, it puts me and most other adult MKs into a tailspin of confusion, often presented as staring wide-eyed like a deer in headlights.
As a child, I found that my answer almost always depended on where I was in the moment. In Africa, my accent, white skin, and curly blonde hair made me stand out as the obvious “American girl”. While in North America, my lack of ability to open a locker, know the rules at school, and understand American culture quickly labeled me the “African girl.” In either case, I came to understand that I was never “from” here.
Now however, I tend to try to gauge my response based on the circumstances and on how interested the person sounds in hearing my life story. Or, if they’re really just looking for a simple answer to place me in a cultural box that they understand. Well, I don’t really fit into what most would perceive as a “normal” cultural box, so my answer often goes something like this:
“I currently live in [input current location of bed], but I grew up in Africa.”
This way, I can keep it simple while also expressing that my “from” is a little more complex. If the person is really interested, it leaves the door open for them to ask more. At the same time, it prevents me from spewing my whole life story at someone who isn’t actually that interested, and then feeling the inevitable sting of not belonging.
Unfortunately, even after giving my pre-scripted response above, I’ve still had individuals ask me, “But where are you FROM?” As if that makes the question any clearer!
Still, a deeper challenge with this question is the imposed pressure to place all your value, experiences, and heart into one single location. It’s like the ice-breaker question, “If you were to pick just one food to eat for the rest of your life and never eat anything else, what would it be?” It denies the value, richness, and nourishment found in variety.
And, as an MK, I could never pick just one place as my “from!” Each has impacted me deeply, shaped my life, and given me riches untold in the form of relationships, culture, memories, and much more! Sure, there have been hard things in each place and the pain of always missing “back there,” but this has never detracted from the total value my heart has found in each one.
When asked once how I felt about growing up as an MK and always moving to different places, this was the response I gave:
I love it! I feel like with each move, my heart keeps growing. Each new place adds a special spot in my heart that only expands the longer I’m there.
And, for me, this continues to prove true. Watching the Olympics, I cheer for each flag where my heart’s found a home. In public and on TV, my ears perk up at each familiar accent or mention of a place I love. And even as an adult, I’ve been privileged to add yet another country to my heart. Each touch with these cultures warms a unique place in my heart that will never go away.
And so, I celebrate the kaleidoscopic colors of my ever-growing MK heart and hope I can encourage other MKs to do the same.