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I Don't Know What To Say When People Ask 'Where Are You From?'

11/11/2014 12:46 EST | Updated 01/11/2015 05:59 EST

I am quite fortunate. I have three passports (US, Canada, Holland), and I speak three languages (English, French, Spanish). I have lived in four countries. I am 5'4", brunette, with olive skin and brown eyes, allowing me to integrate inconspicuously into most cultures (Holland is a different story of course). I grew up in the States and now live in Montreal, Canada.

A question I never stop hearing: Where are you from?

I never know what to say, am I American? Canadian? Usually that answer never suffices, people want to know my heritage, my bloodline, my roots. So I answer: "my mom is half-Iranian, half-Dutch, and my dad is half-Peruvian, half-American". The inevitable eye-roll ensues.

I have thus alienated myself from the convention of associating a cultural, national identity to my name. I do not feel like a citizen of said country, but rather, a denizen of the world. I realize my situation is rare and privileged, but I am not insensitive to the many problems revolving national identity around the world. Having grown up concerned with constructing my ethnic/national/cultural identity stemmed an innate interest in what constitutes national pride, especially in our pluralist society.

Research shows that national pride does improve personal and societal well-being, but it depends on what your proud of. An article posted in the journal Psychological Science by sociologist Tim Reeskens and political scientist Matthew Wright analyzed responses concerning ethnic and civic nationalism from 40,677 people in 31 different countries. The former ties itself to ancestry, bloodline, and religious beliefs where the latter highlights respect for the country itself, encompassing pride in its institutions and laws. It was deduced that civic nationalists were happier than those who were more proud of their cultural heritage, by a long shot.

Although one would think that both models erect disparaged boundaries between "us" and "them", it is the ethnic nationalists who are more subject to xenophobia and a rejecting ideology. Those who participate in civic pride are conversely more open to a pluralist society, where greater trust and social engagement is encouraged. The ethnic nationalists, who rely heavily on their ancestry as a definitive source of happiness, value more distrusting, self-enhancing principles.

On a more colloquial, pop-cultured note Raven Symone, the childhood Disney star received a lot of backlash from promoting the aforesaid (beneficial) form of national pride. In an interview, Where Are They Now with Oprah Winfrey, Raven talked about her sexuality and heritage in a negating manner. Namely, she said she is not a lesbian she is "a human who loves humans", nor is she African-American, she is "an American". She expresses how labels and the categorizing tradition have futile and negative consequences. Oprah herself becomes concerns when Raven 'denies' her black heritage.

But what is Raven denying? She doesn't disregard her skin colour or her hair texture, or the traditional lineage and history that are associated with these features. It seems like her main premise is a disregard of ostracizing labels. In a present-day context I think this resonates profoundly on how to construct a modern sense of identity. This construction shouldn't be devoid of an understanding of one's cultural background, gendered relations, or physical realities. When we render aspects of the self into categories that differentiate "us" from "them" is the point of deviation from a welcoming, integrative ideology.

As Raven Symone says "I connect with Caucasian. I connect with Asian. I connect with Black. I connect with Indian. I connect with each culture." For those of us living in pluralistic places, fragments of cultures can be seen topographically from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, within neighbourhoods at that. For those of us who are mutts -- ethnical, cultural hybrids -- isn't it the splinters, the segments of different cultures that make up our experience?

So where am I from? I am from Canada. I am from the United States. I am from Peru, Holland, and Iran. I am from everywhere.

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