Emilio in Congo (DRC)

“Where are you from?”

This question gets asked a lot when I meet someone new.

I have many versions of the answer depending on the person asking, my mood or the immediate environment. I can’t seem to answer the same thing every time.

Why is this question important in the first place? Why is it asked?

Is my accent troubling you? Does my face not clarify a location? Do I not look like what I say I am?

A doctor was so confused once, that one of his first questions was what religion I practiced. How was that question relevant to treating my health issue?

Sometimes people don’t ask until much later in the conversation or have assumed I am from a particular place, and then they are shocked that I am not from where they thought I was.

I once had to prove that I was definitely not from where the other person thought I was (Brazil) or that I didn’t speak their language (Arabic, Turkish).

The reason why it is difficult to rapidly answer this question is the complexity of the various cultures that I have been exposed to.

I guess I am a human of the global multicultural times we now live in.

Sure I’m an old millennial from the 80s and there are now generation Z adults and generation Alpha kids (this one is new to me!) with much “richer” cultural mixes. I don’t think I am an exception, but from my experience, I do seem to be less common than most people.

In terms of beliefs, it is also a quagmire. One parent is from Isma’ilism and the other is Christian Catholic. So the other question is, what faith do I subscribe to?

Are we just more messed up and is it really a richness if it is not addressed and reflected upon? Should we blindly say that it is “wonderful” or “You’re so lucky you speak 3 languages (French, Spanish, English)”? Maybe not.

Every person will live these influences from their parents and environment differently and not necessarily in a positive way all the time.

There will be times of doubt and rejection of this mix. To want to belong to a single place. To want a simple answer to the question of their origin.

Some people ask you to pick one culture or to pick one home. But what if you can’t?

What if you love so many places, so many cultures, that you just can’t make up your mind? That you hate some things from all those cultures? Why can’t we transcend the divisions and create a more inclusive group of people that embrace our differences?

The world has come up with a term for me: that I am a “Third Culture Kid“. No, I am not a TCK. That is not what this is. I may seem arrogant, but there is no word for what I am. This is not a third culture. This is an nth culture. Maybe my parents are TCKs.

Third culture kids (TCK) or third culture individuals (TCI) are people who were raised in a culture other than their parents’ or the culture of their country of nationality, and also live in a different environment during a significant part of their child development years.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_culture_kid

I guess we don’t want to be put in a box. To be labelled. That is maybe the only thing we can agree on. “Don’t put a label on me”. You can’t tell someone who is mixed what they are if they don’t even know themselves who they are.

After all this mumble jumble, you may be wondering what the hell I really am.

I am the child of a third generation East African-Indian Ismaili Khoja Canadian who lived in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ivory Coast, the UK and Canada (never in India) and a Nicaraguan-Mexican who lived in Nicaragua, Canada, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa. I studied in a French school while speaking English and Spanish with friends and family members at home. I grew up in the DRC, South Africa and Canada.

These influences have impacted my beliefs and views of the world and they will continue to filter how I see the world.

But are we, or am I really so different from anyone really? Aren’t we all the same? The TCKs, the one’s from one place? Don’t we all want to find a home? Is it even easy for those with a home who move to the ends of the earth to make a new one?

Maybe we aren’t so different and it doesn’t really matter where we are from. In the end, we all want the same things. Maybe!

So, is it an easy answer? What would you tell the world when they ask you where you’re from?

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