On this Mother’s Day, I mull the question “Where are you from?”

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

On this Mother’s Day, I mull the question, “Where are you from?”
 
I was in Milwaukee recently, visiting my boyfriend’s parents. After Easter mass with his mom, we stopped at a local gas station in search of graham crackers and chocolate. Matt was home building a bonfire so we could make s’mores. As we left, he called to me to get ANYTHING but Hershey’s. “It’s crap chocolate,” he bellowed.  I mulled the candy aisle in the Mobil Unimart. My prospects of finding Ghirardelli or Lindt looked bleak.
 
I grabbed the Hershey’s bar and made my way to the register. The curiosity of the man behind the register was palpable. He stared.

“Where are you from?”

I actually hate this question. It usually devolves into “Where are your parents? Where are they from? Where do you live?  Where is your husband?”  Sometimes, I say I’m Mexican to diffuse the conversation. But that seemed irreverent in front of Matt’s mom.

Where am I from?

My mom is from Calcutta. My dad is from Burma. My dad emigrated to the US in 1962 because of anti-Indian sentiment.   I was born American and raised in Pennsylvania.  I played with Barbies. I learned to change the tires on my car.

But, I was never quite ‘American.’ 

When I turned 30, I bought a British Airways ticket and visited India. I travelled. To Calcutta, Delhi, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Bangalore, Chennai, Pondicheri, Coimbatore, Cochin. I wanted to reframe the conversation about what it meant to be Indian. I rejected the version that my parents jammed down my throat.  Here I was, discovering the beautiful and the unfinished. 

To Indians in India, I wasn’t quite Indian.

I went to college in Pennsylvania. I went to graduate school in Boston. I did a stint in Wyoming.   

Today,  I live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. My boyfriend lives on the lower East side. Given the trappings of the modern New York romance, I split my time between  the two neighborhoods. And here I was at a gas station in Allenton, Wisconsin, Hershey’s in hand, staring at the eager stout Indian gas station owner, who was secretly hoping I would affirm his hunch, that I was, in fact, Indian too.

“I’m from New York,” I replied flatly and without emotion. “I’m from New York.”

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