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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

You ask me where I’m from

Published: September 17, 2010
Section: Arts, Etc.

GRAPHIC BY Savannah Pearlman/The Hoot

You ask me where I’m from. Most of the time the correct answer will be somewhere between New York and New York City. You ask me from which part, and I’ll respond “Queens, although I went to school in Manhattan” as if that small distinction will paint a picture of skylines and lunchboxes from Whole Foods in your mind instead of a semi-suburb named something as generic as “Fresh Meadows.” You then tell me you’re from somewhere else in New York or from Newton or San Diego or somewhere else and we makemental associations with farms or apples or beaches that we hope will somehow make sense of the person in front of us.

You ask me where I’m from. This is done with a heavy Chinese accent and I try to gauge what exactly you want my answer to be. I say New York. You note my minimal accent and ask when I moved to the States. I laugh nervously as I respond that hopefully I don’t have an accent at all since I don’t know any language but English because I was born here. You laugh and smile weakly. I offer that my parents came from the Philippines, as if the Filipino blood that flows through me somehow came from the same blood that flows through you. For a second I wish I were from where you’re from. You could talk about the excessively long plane ride and I could complain about how hard it is to figure out the temperature with this ridiculous American system.

You ask me where I’m from. At this point, I choose to respond with North. You respond that you are also from North or that you’re from Massell. We determine that we live in the same place or we don’t. I say I’m in the building with the laundry machines. You say you’re in the co-ed building. We talk about turkeys or ponds or even meal plans, each sentence a road we’ve walked down a million times before but never bothered to learn anything about.

You ask me where I’m from. I try to answer with the words that say who I am the most. With so many one-time conversations in the past three weeks, my identity has been completely dissected into a bunch of random facts about me. I am a freshman. I am from the East Coast. I am Filipino but kind of not really. Someone once told me that freshman year is all about figuring out who I am at college and being that person to the extreme. But isn’t who I am in college just a displaced version of who I am in high school? Every time you ask me where I’m from, we get closer to learning more about each other but somehow further away. Next time you ask me where I’m from, stick around for a little more conversation. Tell me your favorite hiding spots as a kid, why you like the rain or even what you originally thought the Freshman Fifteen was. I’ll make sure every word counts and that you won’t be another list of facts bound to places you’re from. I’ll see you for who you are, just another person trying to make a friend.