Living in Canada for nine years now has been a pleasant experience, however, there is a question that literally stops me in my tracks.
Where are you from?
This question sends me into a spiral of possible, yet unsatisfying answers. Should I tell people where I was born or where I had lived before settling in the capital city?
There are things in my life that rarely make me stop and think – such as listing off my favourite movies or music or food – but a question like this, makes me think hard about what my answer should be.
I was born and raised just outside of Johannesburg, South Africa; a country where multiculturalism was – and still is – celebrated. Since that was my home for 13 years, it was rare that people asked me where I was from. And even when people did, it was typical that people of colour lived on the outskirts of Johannesburg.
When I was 13-years-old, my family and I moved to a small town of approximately 5,000 people, in Newfoundland.
Yes, Newfoundland, out of all places in Canada. This was a place that was super small, super cold and super white – with snow, of course.
Since my family and I were the only South Africans in this town, there would often be follow-up questions such as “Why Newfoundland?” or “How cold does it get in South Africa?” or “No, seriously, why Newfoundland?”
In this small town – which is made up of mostly white people – it was easier to explain that South Africa was the only place I lived in before I moved to Newfoundland.
Once I moved to Ottawa – which was four years ago – that question didn’t exist at all. While I was a student at the University of Ottawa, I was always asked whether I came from Toronto or even India. At first, I was okay with it.
But, when it was asked frequently, then it made me stop and think.
When I finally revealed that I’m (proudly) South African, it came off as a major surprise.
Should it be surprising? This is what I didn’t — and still — don’t understand.
In a country – or let alone our capital city that welcomes people of all ethnicities — why should it be a surprise that people of colour can originate from different places?
I feel as though we should be able to celebrate our diversity instead of playing on assumptions.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with questioning where I’m from, however, my answer is might always be a surprise — regardless — and surprisingly, I’ve learned to be okay with it.