My ancestors hardly took a straight and narrow path ending with an arrival to America.
I was born and raised in California, with a year spent in London as a child. My mom spent her teenage years in Canada but was born and spent her childhood in Pakistan. Her mother is from India and her father was born and raised in Burma (present-day Myanmar). My father was made a political refugee at age 5 after the Communist regime took over in Burma and lived in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Singapore before landing here at age 18. His mother was born and raised in Mauritius, and his father was born and raised in Burma. My family on both sides can trace its roots back to Surat, a village in Gujarat, India, but I have no close living relatives there. All of my close relatives are in Southern California, Texas, Toronto, or London.
So when someone asks me the “Where are you from?” question, it’s too imprecise to apply to someone with as textured as a background as I have in the way in which they mean to ask it. I answer with “California” or “the Internet” because those places inform my language, culture, and identity far more than my ultimately Indian heritage. The only factor that affected me more than my home state or my chosen primary social space was my former religion, Islam, which I not only thoroughly behind at age 18 but I also think hardly counts as a place from which I could hail.
If I’m not “from” anywhere, to where could I “go back”, exactly?
White American critics of this country are not told to “go back to Europe” when they express discomfort, discontent, criticism, or even treasonous-sounding sentiments. Instead, they are told to “try” life in countries unrelated to their ethnicities — countries like, say, the ones from which my ancestors hailed or the ones from which I am assumed to originate. Curious, that. Almost as if the wish to see me “repatriated” has little to do with any legitimate response to my criticism and more to do with xenophobia and fear of the Other.