A coworker referred to me as a “Southern belle” today. It’s kind of funny to think about, as I’m not really the debutante-in-a-froo-froo-dress type. I suppose I can see it. She’s been in meetings with me where I’m generally pretty demure. My default mode is, “Could you, please? Thank you.” (Probably to a fault.) The last time we spoke, I did use the expression, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” “Y’all” is still a regular part of my vocabulary.
But, you see, I’m not really from Texas. Sure, I lived there for ten very formative years but I’m from Washington State. Well. That’s where I grew up. If you asked where I was born as a means of asking where I’m from, that’s somewhere else entirely. It’s really a misnomer to say I’m from Detroit. And we’ve discussed how I’m from the Internet.
When people ask where I’m from, I have a clunky story. And on top of it, I’ve got this identity that is very hodge podge:
“How do you know the words to ‘Rapper’s Delight’?”
“Did you just use Yiddish? Are you Jewish?” (Not Jewish, no Jewish relatives, just picked it up from my mom who got it from who knows where.)
“You are the oldest young person I know.”
There’s no easy way to talk about who I am.
Sometimes I think back to the bio I wrote for a piece for this comedy blog:
Lauren Church loves to laugh. She enjoys writing but isn’t sure what she’s doing with her life. This is surely the midlife crisis that high cholesterol has promised her. She blogs every Friday at itscasualfriday.com.
At no point do I say where I’m from. Because I can’t pack that into a short couple sentences. I still think it does a good job of describing me (and it makes me laugh).
When I do talk about where I’m from, and stumble all over it, people have a natural question. “Why?” Like I said – no easy way to talk about all this. That’s why I liked this Ted Talk by Taiye Selasi.
To summarize: so many of us have a journey that takes us beyond a single place. Our life experiences are a mosaic and these places where we’ve lived have imprinted on us cultures and customs that cannot be summed up by saying where we’re from. Often it is better to view ourselves as ‘multi-local’.
I love this idea. I know, it’s easier for people to ask where you’re from. They can put you in a category, know what to make of you, what to expect… I’m all for managing expectations! But the reality is that people are way, way more complicated than that. Selasi’s talk concludes by saying that asking where you’re from versus asking where you’re a local gets to the heart of your intentions. If you really want to know someone and get an idea of what makes them who they are, you’re better off asking where they’re a local.
I mean, I’ll take the stereotype that I’m a Southern belle. I’m sure it’s easier to put me in that box and as stereotypes go, it’s pretty cute. But a better way to think about my identity is subscribing to Selasi’s method. My name is Lauren and I am a local of Detroit, Houston, and Spokane. It still may bring up the “why” and maybe I’ll answer that. But it’s better than backtracking and fumbling through these things that don’t quite describe about who I am. And I understand not everyone knows or cares. But we should. We’re all people with a unique path and story. We just need to learn how to tell it.