Where Are You From?

Everybody asks where I am from. Some are satisfied with my current location, others want to know where I am from originally. Some people also like to guess, usually wrongly. Some Pakistanis even want to know my ancestral village.

I started this post after reading the really funny post about this topic on Don’t shoot! two years ago. Somehow I never found the energy and the wit to finish it. Of course, the topic comes up regularly in cyberspace as well as in real life. SAFspace wrote about it last year and Wayfarer last month.

“Where are you from?” seems like a common question which I get asked quite a lot. And by everybody, whether they are Pakistani, Arab, European, Mexican, American, etc. My reply depends on who is asking, how (s)he is asking, my mood and the current moon phase. I have been known to reply Atlanta, Jersey (when I called it home), US, Pakistan, Islamabad, or a capsule history of all the places I have lived in my life. Amber, on the other hand, has to spoil it all by saying “Pakistan” always.

Some people are just making polite conversation and are satisfied with whatever you tell them. Others are insistent and ask where I am originally from if they are not satisfied with my first answer.

In Pakistan and among Pakistanis, I sometimes get a more lethal form of this question: Which village are your ancestors from? That becomes impossible to answer. My ancestors seem to have been global nomads like me. I don’t have any place I can call my ancestral village. Do I tell them where I live (Atlanta, GA) or was born (Wah Cantt, Pakistan) or where my parents live (Islamabad, Pakistan) or were born (Jammu, India and Cairo, Egypt)? Or where I have spent the most part of my life (divided into 3 continents, with the longest two stays in Wah Cantt, Pakistan and Atlanta, GA, USA)?

The interesting thing is that the people asking these questions want simple answers. They are not satisfied with the complex picture I can weave.

It is not just in the US where a lot of people assume that I am not from here. Even South Asians have sometimes assumed me to be a foreigner. Once we were in a Walmart in New Jersey when we overheard an old Indian couple discussing us. They were lamenting why such a good Indian girl (Amber, I guess) had married a foreigner. Then there was the time when I gave a lift in my car to another student of my university back in Pakistan. He spoke English to me throughout. I was surprised but continued the conversation in English. Later it turned out that he thought I was one of the few foreign students there. I think he said I looked Iraqi to him.

Here are some of the multitudes of ethnicities people have assigned me. Somebody in Maine told me on the phone that I sounded Irish (no way!) A few Californians detected speech patterns of the South in my accent (don’t think so.) Several Arabs, especially in my early days in the US, tried to speak to me in Arabic. A few people have also said that I look a bit Iranian. And then obviously quite a few people think I am from India.

The next person who asks me who I am will get the following reply: East African Plains Ape.

Author: Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer

5 thoughts on “Where Are You From?”

  1. That is nothing new for me son! Most of the memebers of our family are facing these questions. The reason for one, I mean the former question you know, that is, facial appearance of most of our family members.
    Reason for the latter question which is, generally, asked by Pakistanis and Indians is the cast and tribe system which was present among Hindus but was supported and officially enforced by British rulers of the past to achieve their goal of divide and rule.

  2. Assalam o alikum wr wbrkt,

    Mai nay google search k zereay aap ki web tak resai hasil ki jahaan bohut se comments k dermian Fizan ki post bhi read ki jis mai bhai nay yahoo messenger mai urdu install kernay ki bat pochi thi, To mei ap ko btana chahta hoon k windows ki languages mai urdu install ker lenay se yahoo k sath sath msn msi bhi urdu chatting ho sakti hay or mai is ka kafo istimal ker chuka hun. mazeed malomat k liay mujey rehanshabbir@yahoo.com per mail kerlain.

    wassalam,
    ap ki duaon ka talib.

  3. aw man, i wrote a comment in here before and it’s not here. I had said…

    hey Zack. Where are you reallllly from?

    😉

  4. Dad:

    Reason for the latter question which is, generally, asked by Pakistanis and Indians is the cast and tribe system which was present among Hindus but was supported and officially enforced by British rulers of the past to achieve their goal of divide and rule.

    The British did solidify and bureaucratize all kinds of divisions. An example is that one still has to fill out one’s caste in a lot of Pakistan government forms. However, the question itself is most likely not have anything to do with Hindus or British. Rather, it is a question common in rural or tribal societies where mobility is low.

    Rehan: You should have posted this comment to the correct post here or here.

    Renee: 😛

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