“Where are you from?” has always been an awkward question for me, it may sound simple enough but my answer is definitely complicated. I used to find a pause would build up while I ran through the many alternative responses in my head, and the questioner would look at me with increasing curiosity. After years of stumbling, I worked out the simplest solution – give the inquirer the answer they are looking for. As the question often comes when people hear me speak, and my pronunciation is not from wherever I currently am, saying “My accent is from Yorkshire” covers the ground I think they want to cover. I made this leap when I realised that when in Yorkshire I don’t get asked the question, so there it must sound like I am from “round these parts”.
Now I come to consider it, my answer has me assigning a separate identity to my accent and disowning it as a part of me. I think this reflects the difficulty I have had identifying myself as a Yorkshire woman in the past. Although I spent the years aged three to eighteen in various Yorkshire towns and went to school there, I was born in London to an Australian. Then I was adopted by parents of whom neither are from Yorkshire, so we all arrived in God’ country as aliens. The school years and family life in the county did nothing to embed me, the Yorkshire identity sitting uneasily; I never did own it and so answering The Question with “I am from Yorkshire” does not feel truthful.
Until recently I have felt neither at home nor found much belonging in my adult life. After I left Yorkshire I headed to the north east, to university and beyond. Leaving there ten years later I did feel a deep sense of loss, that life was ripped away as I moved south with my husband to accommodate our future plans. I had a connection with the region and made good friends, so moving away was difficult as I felt I lost my footings. We moved closer to relatives geographically, but as I had never felt relaxed in any family this did not prove to be a comfort. I again felt alien; my accent and lifestyle so out of place and unfamiliar in the south. I have lived in the south now for 19 years, but it is not my home.
I have a notion that home (where one belongs) has a deep attachment to family or heritage or place. Families move around so much more in current times, some are very loose and separations are common. Very often children are not familiar with grandparents, or even parents, who live miles, or continents, away, and scant time or inclination may impede many meetings face to face. Heritage and family ties can get lost within a haze of disinterest if not nurtured. I wonder how many people today feel displaced or dislocated from their home as this cultural isolation from their past is more prevalent.
When the element of adoption is added then this can intensify the dislocation; I certainly have had a “lottery” feeling to my history. My mother happened to be in England when I was born (she may have been traveling on and I could have been born elsewhere), I was adopted here and did not return with her to the antipodes. My adoptive parents were randomly selected, and just happened to be registered at the same adoption agency as me – and I was born early, so if I had come on time, would I have had different parents? This leaves all elements of home (family, heritage and place) very fuzzy indeed. Who and where is home? And to whom and to where do I belong?
Answers have begun to emerge; I have finally found places on the earth, within the soil and with others, that feel like my heritage and family; I have established an identity that comes from inside me; I have taken a name I chose that fits me, it incorporates where and to whom I feel I belong. I have created a homeland within myself, a heartland that sustains and comforts me. It may not help me yet in answering the question simply when asked “Where do I come from?” but I am working on a new answer that feels authentic and valid in the context of all my history.