Experimental Civics


Why I Hate Answering “Where Are You From?”

I’ve realized how much as a “Third Culture Adult” I now detest answering this question. I wrote a whole paper on this topic when working on my master’s degree and I can honestly say that I still do not have a perfect answer.

It’s confusing for everyone. Including me.

I’m British, American, Pakistani, Indian, Asian, South Asian, Austinite, Californian, and hopefully, one day a New Yorker. Yeah, there you go. But that tells you very little about me…what were the assumptions running through your head?

Imagine the juggling I have had to do…man…I feel the headache coming on…

When I was younger, my parents felt a sense of shame admitting where they were from based on pressures from the British society we were trying to assimilate to. My father faced discrimination based on his last name…people assumed our religious beliefs (my mother being Christian and the rest of us Atheists)…and the list goes on.

The earliest memory I have of when I first changed where I was from was when I was planning to go on a Cub Scouts trip out of the country…this required a group visa and my scout leader purposely wrote “Reading, United Kingdom” as my birthplace. He did this as a tremendous gesture to me since he knew that my birthplace would cause more issues than I deserved as a 10-year old…from then on…I said I was born in the U.K.

After my family and I moved over to U.S. with a tremendous offer to be dual citizens…my life became even more complicated.

I went through a pretty intensive identity crisis throughout high school and college. My early 20s were rough with all of this self-discovery…and a lack of confidence to own who I was and where I was.

It wasn’t until I had reached the prime age of 26 where I realized that this running around was bullshit. I processed who I was and proudly admitted to myself that I could be any label I wanted to be. I could change and adapt into whoever I wanted to be.

I was a chameleon baby! I had the privilege of living a global life and that was valid.

I was 27 when I learnt the term “Third Culture Kid,” and I’m still surprised that most of the cutting-edge research on this growing population was coming out of Australia. I delved into this topic during one of my classes and I had all the answers I was looking for. I shared this video with my peers during my presentation and it was certainly an eye-opener.

I’m bringing up this topic now because as I travel around the world and listen to other stories…I’m not alone and we are becoming more complex with how we identify…

How many of you have opened up an identity form and struggled to answer these questions?

From U.S. Office of Personnel Management

What about those of you who are designing products for a global user base … are you exposed to these various cultures? Who are you designing your app for?

How many of you are familiar with the article National Geographic posted about the Changing Face of America?

Photographs by Martin Schoeller (National Geographic)

Times are certainly changing. People are moving around more than they ever have before. Especially folks from my generation (surprise, surprise, I’m a Millennial), we are breaking down the barriers from interracial dating to being digital nomads in other countries.

Our own concepts of identity are morphing and the beauty to me is that I can choose the best qualities the world has to offer and embody them in myself. Is that the best of humanity right there?

I feel that the best question to ask is where do you call home right now? That is easier for me to answer. Here is where I live right now.

You don’t need to know where my “parents” are from or my “ancestors” (India, originally, for those curious parties…partition + wars can split families across borders…) because they do not represent the life I have lived and who I am today.

Don’t you want to know what my favorite meal is or comedian? It makes for a more insightful conversation.

As a civic hacker and organizer of hackathon events, I look at building community from all sorts of lenses and what are effective ways to build connections…moving away from how we look and who we are is what I want to build. Not only does this push us to connect via our hearts, but it helps advocate for inclusivity.

I don’t care where you are from or where you were born…I care about what you like to do, what you are doing, where you have traveled to, and whether we can laugh together. Vent over and thanks for reading. If you are a Third Culture anything, please feel free to comment and share your story. I wish to elevate our voices together.

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