Where I'm From

As my first semester of my first year of college comes to an end, I realize that I’ve become very good at asking and answering that question – “Where are you from?” This question, for college freshmen, is not only a conversation piece but also an identifier. It is the small talk question of orientations, roommate bonding, advisor meetings, and first classes. We, as human beings throwing ourselves into unfamiliar territory in the name of furthering our education, are simply seeking some semblance of familiarity amongst each other. That’s why, at a college as diverse as Denison University is, I’ve always dreaded this question, because, being from Ohio, I’m forced to sit on the sidelines while conversations like this happen around me:

“You’re from Boston/China/Chicago/India/New York too? That’s so awesome! What part?”

            I’ve found that living fifteen minutes away from Denison’s campus often makes me the most uninteresting person in the room. It’s not that I don’t like Ohio, because it’s hard not to love home, but sometimes it is hard to love where I’m from when it’s brushed aside and overlooked in almost every conversation I’ve been a part of in the last four months.

            I wish that I wasn’t reduced to a location in conversation; I wish that I could answer “Where are you from?” with my actual identity. I wish I could say, “Well, my grandmother is from the Philippines and my grandfather is Polish and the other half of me is German.” I wish I could tell them that I’m from scientists and lawyers and doctors and ambassadors and generals and businessmen and a line of strong women as far as the eye can see. It’s too hard to include all of the details about myself in small talk, so for the sake of time and in the interest of not oversharing, I say, “Newark, Ohio, about fifteen minutes away from here. It’s where Walmart is.” I let myself fall by the wayside.

            I fade into the background because there’s no room in small talk for me to explain that being from Middle of Nowhere, OH, USA doesn’t mean that I’ve had a lackluster life. I come from a hardworking mother and a dedicated father. I come from old money and new money and times when there was no money at all. I come from public library trips and soup beans and family movie nights at home. I come from butting heads and riding bikes and the realest version of family to ever exist.

            But instead, I fade, which, over time, became fine with me. The purpose of writing this was not to ask for sympathy, but rather just to say it. It feels lonely sometimes, but I’ve learned that people who don’t brush me aside are the people I would rather have in my life anyway. “Newark, Ohio, about fifteen minutes from here. It’s where Walmart is,” I say. I keep my identity to myself, most of the time. That’s ok though, because then there’s more to share with those who want to know.