Where are you from?

A seemingly banal question that I asked and been asked a hundred times since I arrived Singapore - where are you from? And the reply is not as simple as it used to be. A country where three major ethnicities live in harmony and more than a third of its population are Permanent Residents and Non-Residents, Singapore is one of the largest community of foreigners in the world.

More and more people are living in countries which are not their own. Decades ago like in the time of our grand parents, they are firmly planted on the soil where they were born. Today, we can consider ourselves lucky to be relocated or be uprooted to taste a different world than our birthplace. The question "Where are you from?" to this day is more a connotation of where you were born, or grew up than your origin. And yet, we are expected to say we are from the appropriate race and continent. If an Asian was born and raised outside of Asia, we tend to insist on this question with, "But where are you from, originally?" The simplest reply would be something like, "Born in Malaysia, raised in Australia and live in Singapore".

I was born and raised in Manila, and a third of my later life in France. I always say I am from the Philippines but live in France when asked. After the redundancy, I simply say the Philippines. This is where this simple question becomes even more fascinating. Where you come from is a spark of interest. Some people have engaged in a pleasant conversation, while others would remain to the clichés. I was once asked how it feels like to see so many Filipinos working as domestic helpers. Another time, the man handling the office empty of people welcomed me with a curt smile, made me wait for a good 20 mins, and on handing my papers, he smiled and talked to me about France and Europe for almost an hour upon seeing that I come from France.

Meeting so many people from different parts of the world is so enriching. An epiphany to the world that is becoming more divided. I have to admit that I can't help associating where the people I meet comes from with who they are. A despairing human nature that inhibits us to give people a chance. It denotes otherness that in consequence, we seem to feel more connected to the ones with the same color, or race, even if a lot of them have never step foot on their countries of origin.

Where you are from, in reality, is irrelevant today. Maybe it is more of that place where you feel best connected to. That place that have shaped who you are. Perhaps the best way to ask this question is rather with, "Where is home?"  The response might be a surprise on how you will see people differently.


From Manila to Paris, then to Marseille & to the Côte d'Azur, now in Singapore, clinging to a map of three worlds, where everything becomes all relative.

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