Ever since I remember, the seemingly straightforward question has thrown me. I remember being 6 years old, in my school in Spain which I had only recently started, and being interviewed by older children for a survey. When I replied ‘Liverpool’ in my thick Scouse accent, they look perplexed and began to ask a question I have now heard far too many times: “But…where are you really from?”
Of course, I replied ‘India’ straight away because that is my ethnicity and a huge part of my identity. Now, having grown up abroad in the south of Spain since the age of 5 before returning to the UK fifteen years later to study, has only made my answer to a casual ‘Where are you from?’ even more confusing, usually resulting in me waffling on to cover all possible pieces of information this poor person may have wanted (or may not have wanted) to know.
This is, of course, to avoid the annoying racially presumptive question that follows (or a rephrased version of ‘Why are you brown?’) Or, quite often, to avoid the dismay of other Indians when they find that I, unfortunately, have not yet had a chance to visit their homeland and my country of origin, infamous India. I almost feel guilty when I am looked at with shock and despair when they then find out that, whilst I’m bilingual, I have not learnt Hindi or Gujarati. Whilst I cannot wait to explore my heritage and roots properly one day, I can’t help but wander what my truthful short answer would be…. My own grandmother, who has been in the UK since the age of 16, called me ‘a coconut’ the other day, laughing at my western ways!
Writer Taiye Selasi gave an inspirational speech on this topic titled ‘Don’t ask where I’m from, ask where I’m a local.’ She makes an incredible point – borders change and countries grow, merge or even disappear. “I am not ‘multinational.’ I am not ‘a national’ at all… How can I come from a concept?” she encourages us to consider. Our identities are instead a culmination of our experiences. Whilst my nationality is British and my ethnicity is Indian, my family, home and heart remain in my small town in southern Spain… and all of these make up where I am really from! What I love about my beautifully multicultural university in London is that my complicated answer is more often than not matched or raised. Being able to embrace and celebrate diversity is something I really hope I don’t have to let go of when I leave next month!