Where are you from?
My first response to this question is always a sigh followed by ‘Where do I start’. See I am girl of many different places, many different worlds if you will and very contrasting ones at that. I identify with a few different places, not because I am of visible ‘mixed-raced’ decent, but because I was born in one place, raised in another, moulded in a third. I currently live in a fourth different place and I travel the world trying to soak as much in as I possibly can.
This question is tricky for me to answer because I have to debate every time which part of my identity to highlight first. Am I betraying a part of me by proclaiming to be from one place but not the other. Does the order in which I list my affiliations matter? There are also much bigger politics at play in answering that question. Politics that are very much engrained in the way my family is set up and which are way bigger than me or my hesitance when confronted with that old age questions ‘Where are you from?’.
I get asked that question a lot and for several reasons. Amongst others, I travel a lot and because I am black this often means that I am in positions and in places where I am the only one of my kind for miles around. A situation which, in itself, doesn’t bother me. If anything this is often what I go looking for when I travel.
I live in a country that isn’t my own and when I speak you can hear that I am not from here. This then off course causes curiosity in the people I meet and a will to find out more about me.
‘Where are you from’ together with ‘How are you’ are probably two of the most asked questions between human beings trying to communicate and connect, as it helps us “define” a person. It helps us decide whether we want to further interact with them. It helps us categorise people and find “our” people. It helps us differentiate the ones we want to connect with further, the ones we want to learn more about or from and the ones we want to avoid.
Whether we are willing to admit it or not, the answer to ‘Where are you from?’ holds a lot more weight in how we interact with our fellow human beings than we think.
I hope it doesn’t surprise you then if I tell you that my answer to that questions varies depending on the person asking. I am in a position, where I can pick and choose which part of me I want to highlight depending on how I want to be perceived by the person asking. From my experience 'Where are you from' can be an invitation to connect that I accept with open arms or an intrusion into my personal space from ill-meaning strangers looking for a weapon to use against me, often to invalidate my opinion/input in a certain matter or in a certain situation.
Luckily, and in the vast majority of cases, this is a genuine effort from the asking party to find a common ground on which to connect and in those cases I happily oblige and tell a thousand tales of all the places I've had the honour to call home and which have had a significant impact on who I am today.
So where am I from?
I was born in a small coastal village community in Togo, raised in neighbouring Benin by an army of the fiercest women I have ever known and moulded in the intriguing little Kingdom of Belgium. Or as Bae loves to recap it, I am Belgian chocolate from Africa 😁😍.
I am a mix of three tiny nations who together have created one unique stubborn tough cookie.