"Where are you from?": the micro-aggression of proving belonging and the heart of home
It seems innocent enough, a simple question, intended to get to know you.
But intention and impact are two very different beasts.
I invite you to slow down during this writing, and feel the shapes your body makes, large and subtle, on the surface and in depth, the mental gymnastics you perform as your habits and coping strategies emerge to protect you.
Questions always elicit introspection, and inward gaze. This is also known as submission, or power under, in other models of relating. The best way to be on the offense in a conversation, to turn the tables, is to ask a question of the other person.
In the western materialist society, relationships are transactional. They are most often about acquiring resources. A new contact is a resource, a "friend" is a resource. Being liked and doing it "right" is a resource. It's all very cannibalistic and programmed into us early, with even our parents positioning their love behind a paywall of conditionality. Asking a probing question such as this where-are-you-from, even candy-coated with genuine and enthusiastic curiosity, summons the demons of capitalism, of empire, of white supremacy.
But these demons are here, and I have prepared them seats at my table.
For me, this question of place is a stab of looming judgment.
I am "bi-racial". Race is a social construct engineered to oppress most of us, and keep the oppressors in power. I am both from nowhere, and from everywhere.
How many generations of a family living in one place does it take until a person is "from" that place?
Is duration the only variable that initiates a person in this way?
For whiter skinned northern european descendants in the united states, coming to america under the guise of escaping religious persecution, think about that process: who was able to stay versus who left? Would a family with a lot of power, resources, and safety choose that self-imposed exile?
For darker skinned descendants, a fancy bypassing term for kidnapping is "forced migration".
Even conveniently ignoring our ancestors for a moment, how many times did a person move when they were a child?
I was born in Hartford, CT and lived there, and in Manchester, CT until i was 22, but in no way do i feel "from" there, in any sense of affinity or nostalgia or kinship. My family was on welfare and housing assistance. None of the many apartments I lived in were home. Since moving away from that place, I have moved residencies, on average, at least once every 2 years, if not more.
This constant migration has become normalized in our culture now.
We are searching for home because we are homeless and because owning property is a way to engineer racial and class inequity. This is not healthy, nor is it accidental. Many terrible choices were made to try and save our families. Poverty often becomes the background noise of our immigrant or colonial settler family histories.
And the very concept of land ownership, of property, is built upon murder.
And if some are fortunate enough to attain wealth and keep it, ensuring their family's wellbeing on a financial level: what was sacrificed and is still being denied acknowledgment to keep that version of fortune alive?
This is heartbreaking, the best place to start.
To really feel that grief where it lives, in our body, and let it pulse and moan and yearn, and let those thick movements carry us towards a deep, as-yet-unknown meaning.
To long for home is human. To belong is the quintessential modern quest, and we cry for it.
In many nature-based cultures, home is where the bones of your people are buried. Where you too will be buried one day. Where future generations will venerate those bones with song and dance and grief and praise, the earth shivering with delight from the footsteps of a culture's children.
Because home is not just a place you are born and live and die. Home is relationship. Relationship with place, and with the many more-than-human inhabitants of that same place.
Who can say they have that now?
Not I, not yet, maybe not ever.
If a person's place in this life, with all our very real responsibilities to the troubles our kind has caused, is a kind of roaming, nomad existence, what becomes of words like home, what becomes of belonging?
I spend a lot of time asking my ancestors these questions. I spend some more time asking the land I am currently on these questions.
I spend a lot of time asking for safety, for community, for kindness for my skin and bones and blood to be able to do good repair while being a visitor-at-odds.
Being of mixed and multiple heritage, there is no easy answer for the question of where my body belongs.
It yearns for lands and winds many miles apart. Consensus is not necessarily agreement, it is the acceptance of going together rather than not going at all.
This going together binds me, literally and figuratively.
Movement has been the balm for a soul-wounding that has become my place of worship.
To move, for me, is to pray.
The body itself is an ecosystem filled with voices, each aspect finding its place in the harmonic registry.
The body is relationship, personified and magnified.
The body is the world dreaming through you.
If you want to know where the bones of your ancestors are buried, look in the mirror.
This space called the body altar, is an invitation to a journey of great longing. To do the soulwork of reconnection and remembrance, to be surprised and shaken loose of lesser things, to feel and sense and build a home again for you and all your people, right inside where you are.