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.