“Where are you from?”
This is a seemingly simple question to which I routinely respond with complicated answers. Most inquirers are just being polite or trying to ascertain some small amount of information about where I live. However, they usually end up with significantly greater detail than expected.
My answer and corresponding internal dialogue usually goes something like this:
“Well, I guess I’m from Connecticut now” (that response inspires confidence; I guess? My driver’s license and the plates on my car sure seem to think I’m from Connecticut)
“I live there. In Storrs. Actually… at UConn.” (I don’t want this person to think that I just moved out to rural Eastern Connecticut in my mid-twenties to live a quiet country life or something)
“I live at UConn, but I’m not a student. I’m a residence hall director. So I live on campus, but it’s not like, a dorm room. It’s a real apartment…in a residence hall.” (They need to know that I’m a real live grown-up. Maybe I should mention again that I’m not a student. I have a kitchen!)
“But I’m originally from Rhode Island! From outside of Providence.” (Now they know who I really am!)
“And I lived in Maine for six years while I was in school.” (Haha! Wildcard! Betcha didn’t see that coming.)
My long-winded explanations, of course, stem from my own confusion about “home” and where I am rooted at this juncture in my life. Numerous factors contribute, not the least of which is my somewhat unique position of living on a college campus because of my job. After two years in Connecticut, I feel that I owe my experience as a resident there some level of recognition, but that recognition is almost always qualified by explanations.
For me, “where are you from?” is a question that has very little to do with geography. It has to do with values, context, and history. The name or location of a place tells a story (accurate or otherwise) about the person who lives there. It would seem that I find my story complicated enough that it cannot be condensed into one single locale. It would also seem that I see my current, employment-related residence as not quite worthy of full “home” status.
I enjoy my job and where I currently live, and I’ve put in a lot of effort over the past two years to build a sense of connection and belonging there, but I think that I will always have some dissonance in explaining where I am from as long as I live on campus. As long as I live on campus, my home is defined by my job, and I am unwilling to reduce my definition as a person to my job. So for now, I’ll continue to confuse new acquaintances at social gatherings by embracing my multifaceted, trans-state definition of “home.” I don’t exist in just one place and neither does my story.