I could not count the amount of times that I have been asked this question. As a teenager I would often snap back with “I’m from Petersham” to which they would say “haha, no but where are you really from?”. So I state my nationalities and have gotten some frustrating responses like: “oh you don’t look it”, “how does that work?”, “I’ve been to India you should go, you would love it there”,“how come you don’t speak the language?”, “you're not sure? have you done ancestry.com?”
Or my favourite “Oh so you're less than a quarter then?”
Why do you carve me up into little pieces, fragments with edges and borders, like the borders that run in between countries and cities and streets and homes? I wonder what my genealogy would say, percentage wise, but does it really matter?
It is really not that simple. My mother's eyes are green, my brother’s are blue and they both have much lighter skin than me. I used to think I looked so different to them, but I see it in the way we walk, the way we smile. Maybe I’d speak Hindi if it wasn’t for the White Australia Policy during my mum’s upbringing, and her hiding the fact that she is part Indian. Maybe if there wasn’t so much stigma attached to being ‘half-caste’ my dad would have felt more comfortable and proud to speak to us in Cantonese in Australia. Shit, while we’re at it maybe if this country wasn’t founded on genocide and wasn’t so hell bent on making that history wash away I would speak one or more Aboriginal languages.
I carve a border right down the centre of my hairline now. A middle part. Where the Eastern and Western hemispheres join. I used to wear my hair like that in primary school with a bindi sometimes, but decided to do otherwise in high school – I wanted to blend in. A number of times I would hear people I called friends say “there are so many asians here”, clearly displeased. “You know that I’m asian right?”, I would say... “oh but you're a good asian”, a “good asian”, one with a bit of white and who speaks English, with an Australian accent I suppose… one who does a better job at blending in.
I think of my great grandfather, a freedom fighter in the Gandhi movement; my great grandmother, a Suffragette; my grandfather, the English seaman; my grandfather, the Hindi mathematician; and my grandmother, who taught me Chinese calligraphy – how to write my name in black ink characters – in just a few swift strokes. I think of how I’d hear the clinking of Mahjong and watch in awe as the women spoke loudly in Cantonese, none of which I could understand, but most of which I could interpret. I think of my Nanna reading me poetry while we listened to her classical cassettes. She had a certain appreciation for nature, art and words, that I admired.
That I still do.
That’s where I’m from.
My ancestry and my nurture. Beyond that there are only two other ways that I could think to answer this question. That I come from the stars… or simply that I grew up on Gadigal land of the Eora Nation, in Petersham, Sydney, Australia.