“Where are you from?”

I’ve seen quite a few articles, videos, and personal posts that indicate this question is racist or is an example of profiling; making the questioned feel as if they don’t belong or are seen as outsiders.

Listening to these responses, I’m struck by the fact that I ask almost everyone I meet where they’re from. And especially here in Victoria, Canada, where I moved a year ago, each time one meets someone new, they ask, “Are you from here?” (Most aren’t!)

Because knowing where someone is from provides a launching point, a possible historical or geographical connection, a point of entry into conversation.

“Where are you from?”

It’s such a good question. Where we’re from helped form us, created our unique backdrop, gave us a foundation. The threads of our home town, our country, are woven into the tapestry of who we are now. It doesn’t define us, certainly, but it offers a touchstone for others to begin to come to know us.

One of George Ella Lyon’s most famous poems is, “Where I’m From.” See: http://www.georgeellalyon.com/where.html

From that poem used as a writing prompt in workshops, dozens, perhaps hundreds, of wondrous poems have sprung. And those who hear or read those poems have entry into a more meaningful understanding of who the person who wrote it is.

I admit, there are likely many who ask this question out of some protective instinct—needing to assert that they are “from” the place where they stand and the other is not, but for the most part I believe it is an honest, innocent question meant to inspire connection rather than separation.

However, if you go far enough back, particularly in places such as North America, Australia and New Zealand, those who might ask that question are not truly “from” the land they now call home.

In many ways we, the settlers, are on stolen land, but in truth, the land belongs to no one. We are all just visitors here.

I once heard a First Nations individual say that one might ask, “Who’s your auntie?” in order to explore the possibility of tribal or familial connection.

It’s possible they might ask, “Where are you from?” but I’m guessing most understand what I truly feel—that we all come from the mother; from this sweet earth that sustains and holds us, even when we’re disrespectful.

We are all just visitors here. Let us be grateful for any welcome we might receive.

And when someone asks where you’re from, you could be creative, as George Ella Lyon suggests.

Where am I from?

I am from dirt roads and bumblebees, from party dresses and staying up late, from sticks and stones and bossy pants, I am from staying up late and arriving too soon, from broken arms and a horse that bites, I’m from empty telephones and an aching belly, I’m from moon dancing and green-walled hospital rooms…