“But where were you born?!” Traveling While Multicultural

“BUT… where were you born?”

“BUT… where is your family now?”

“BUT… do you have a home in X location?”

How many of you guys get these types question after stating that you are a cultural/ethnic hybrid? Or the product of more than one world? Or the byproduct of a space within another space? Such as Dominican-American.

For me, these questions… such asking where I was born after I stated that I’m both is like prying into me for a more binary response.

Often what it really sounds like is “but which one are you REALLY?” As if they are trying to squeeze me into one simplified box. And I know some don’t mean any malice with that question. It is kind of is an interesting query that I may be curious about too if someone I’d just met in Zimbabwe said they were Mongolian-Peruvian or something. But it’s becoming a little tiring to hear that loaded question so much, especially as an avid traveler who is always meeting lots of new people, and especially when I enter homogenous spaces around the world from Oswego, New York to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

Why? Because 1) 99% of the time you really shouldn’t question the answer you’ve been given about someone’s identity 2) if they are really naive, what comes next if I want to ADEQUATELY answer is explaining the phenomenal existence of the diaspora from scratch.

Wait. So what is a diaspora?

If you’re just tuning in to @DominicanAbroad, that’s OK. I’ll share with you a quick summary.

According to Wikipedia:

“A diaspora is a scattered population whose origin lies in a separate geographic locale. [It’s]… come to refer to involuntary mass dispersions of a population from its indigenous territories, most notably… the Jewish diaspora…

Recently, scholars have distinguished between different kinds of diaspora, based on its causes such as imperialism [me!], trade or labor migrations, or by the kind of social coherence within the diaspora community and its ties to the ancestral lands [me, me, me!]”

Related Posts:  Why I’m “Dominican Abroad” instead of “American Abroad”.

Many Don’t Realize That There Is More Than One Type of American

Imagine people’s surprise when I tell them about the existence of concentrated ethnic/cultural communities in the United States (U.S.A) where Americans like me grow up distanced from so much of the white “American” culture we all see on TV. Imagine their surprise when I explain my experience with culture shock in the very country I was born in my first semester of college away from New York City in Upstate New York… Imagine their surprise when I explain that my Dominican diaspora community allowed me to become fluent in Spanish (since it was my first language) so I didn’t speak English until elementary school where I was put in ESL classes (English as a Second Language). Even though I was born and raised in the U.S.A! They look at me almost in disbelief.

But to me, what feels unbelievable is that I have to explain this at all…

It’s the U.S.A!

A huge part of what the country is based on is waves of immigrants who add to the country’s culture and history while understandably (for historical, social, racial, financial reasons) taking some time to “assimilate” and/or succeed.

But I try to be patient because I understand that cultural identity is complex and fluid, and a lot of people don’t get that. Heck… I’m still trying to “get it” as I grow and travel and spend time in so many different parts of the world… and maybe I will be “trying to get it” forever since it’s not a fixed concept. It grows and evolves along with everything else in life.

Coping with Feeling Like a Mutant

So how do you guys, my non-linear Americans/multicultural friends, cope in homogeneous spaces? Do you bother explaining related things such as code-switching or why you can easily switch from one language to the other when speaking to your family/friends from similar backgrounds? Or do you not bother?

As for me… I’ve decided that going forward, I won’t continue defending my answer unless I feel that the inquisitor is genuinely trying and we have some future beyond the next 24 hours.

Whatever the best answers are or the best way to cope may be… I  think we can all agree (for the most part) that the important thing in these situations is to be mindful of NOT trying to dictate someone’s else’s complex identity for them… Especially if you aren’t a product of a multicultural/multiracial/multiethnic upbringing.

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