At midnight (Japanese timezone) of October 1st 2015 the phone started vibrating with messages from Japan, Korea and some other countries in which people had calculated the exact time at which I would turn 22. Why exactly that time? Because my body, my presence, is in Japan. But let’s go on… At 7am the phone woke me up once more because a part of me was turning 22 in Europe (and Southafrica). At noon there was a vibrating earthquake replica inside my backpack when another part of me was becoming older in Argentina. Messages and calls kept on arriving nonstop during October 1st and wouldn’t stop until 2pm of October 2nd, moment in which my birthday came to an end in California. 38 hours of birthday and everything that that implies. It implies that it is unclear where I am, where I come from, where I belong. For some reason these are questions to which we desperately need an answer, because if there is no nationality that identifies us, we’re lost. It is necessary to know. Or so I thought until yesterday…
Luckily, some of the wonderful messages made me open facebook, where an extremely valuable birthday present was waiting for me. It helped me calm down regarding those questions and find an answer to many other that have been wandering inside my head since the very first time I had to pack my life (and that was a long time ago…). The present was this video that is worth watching before going ahead:
I often bump into the question “where are you from?” and I never know what to reply. Never. The first time we moved it was easy. Back then I was from Mendoza, from Luzu, to be more precise. However, even though it was easy, I was not able to say it because we were in a country where people spoke something weird. People ate waffles and they would dress up to knock on doors and ask for candy. That year I turned 3 during 27 hours, from Mendoza to Austin, Texas. There I learnt to properly write the letter “N” and it was the first time I had to face the fear of making friends without mom’s and dad’s help. And with such important events in hand, how can I not identify myself with Austin? A part of me wouldn’t be the same if this place didn’t exist.
So the second time we moved I was not very sure where I came from. I turned 4 in Buenos Aires, the place where I faced my first fears: of putting my head underneath the water, of waiting to be picked up from the nursery, of surgery and hospitals… In Buenos Aires I picked up an accent for the first time. And with such important events in hand, how can I not identify myself with Buenos Aires? A part of me wouldn’t be the same if this place didn’t exist.
So the third time we moved I was already very confused. “I come from Buenos Aires, but I was born in Mendoza. Oh no… English is not spoken in Mendoza, it’s only that I lived in the US before”. In Neuquén I made my first best friends and discovered for the first time how painful farewells are when I left with my backpack full of letters and presents. And with such important events in hand, how can I not identify myself with Neuquén? A part of me wouldn’t be the same if this place didn’t exist.
So when we moved for the fourth time I was already fed up with so much moving around and was hoping that no one would ask me where I was from because not even I knew. Houston exploited my creativity and it was there where my love for science arouse when I understood that the world is spinning while it moves around the Sun and that that’s the cause of timezones. When I was 7 years old I realized that each part of me was not only in different locations in space but also in past and present at the same time. And with such important events in hand, how can I not identify myself with Houston? A part of me wouldn’t be the same if this place didn’t exist.
So when they told me we were going to Spain I got ready to answer that I come from Houston but I’m from Argentina (because in Madrid it was posible to merge Mendoza, Buenos Aires and Neuquén in a single package, no one could really understad how different my life was in each of those places). During this stage my birthdays lasted 32 hours and here I learnt it all. I changed for the second time my accent, I learnt to study, to take care of friendship, to dance, I went for the first time on a summer camp, I learnt to cook and to use a calculator, I fell in love for the first time and I knew loss for the first time. In Spain I became Spanish. And with such important events in hand, how can I not identify myself with Madrid? A part of me wouldn’t be the same if this place didn’t exist.
So when I lived in Ireland, in Germany, in California and now in Japan, I already knew what was waiting for me. I knew what people would ask, and that my answer would be incomplete. I knew that each place would steal a piece of my heart and would complicate further and further my nationality feeling. At this point I’m going to be honest: I don’t have a nationality feeling. I lost it a while ago, when I was told that I shouldn’t love the American flag as much as I loved the Argentinian one. But after today’s story, can anyone understand?
Is there anyone that understands that classifying people by countries does not contribute with anything that describes someone as a person? Yes, I am Argentinian, and no, I don’t dance tango, I dance flamenco and Irish dancing. And yes, I am Spanish, but no, I don’t miss Spanish tortilla because at home I eat empanadas, asado and pastel de papas. And I’m a bit American, and a bit Irish, and now a bit Japanese. Because “in Rome, do as Romans do”, and that’s something that I learnt when my birthdays were still short and it’s something that defines me better as a person than any nationality.
Don’t ask me where I’m from. Rather ask me in which languages I sing in the shower, in which languages I laugh, in which languages I memorize, in which languages I read poetry. Ask me in which cities I was afraid of beginning anew (in all of them), in which cities I was happy (in all of them), in which cities I cried because at that moment I wish I was somewhere else (in all of them) and in which cities I cried when I left (in all of them). My home is not an address, it is not a flag, it is not a timezone. My home is the way people around me pronounce my name, it’s the side of the road cars use, it’s the way in which I interact with other people, it’s the language in which I’m wished good night.
I can obviously not be Argentinian, because it’s been very long that I haven’t been there, and people can tell. And I can obviously not be Spanish, because I don’t share the culture and the traditions, and people can tell. And I’m not Italian, even though my genes disagree. Nor American, even though that country watched me take some of the most important steps in my life. Nor Irish, even though it was there where I learnt to live by myself and to take my own path. Nor Japanese, of course, because I don’t even speak the language yet.
So with these reasonings I hope to have convinced at least one person about the fact that I don’t want more tags, I don’t want to answer with a country to such a broad question. I don’t want to answer with stereotypes when I would like to reply with stories and anecdotes. Because what makes me be the way I am (apart from very fortunate) is the fact that ever since I was little I had to learn to get rid of my traditions, language and food to start anew in different places. And that in this process of being reborn, successive layers were giving rise to the person that is now writing this text.
And it is not necessary to have moved around the world in order for this to be true. A human being is an individual, made of stories, not of stereotypes. Each one of us has something to tell, and that cannot be summed up in a country’s name. When someone says “where do you come from?”, we’re being asked “from which point did the path that brought you to this place and moment in which we are communicating started?”. And paths are intricated and complex. Let’s not stick to easy answers that simplify full lifes into shallow lifes.
Noe from Tokyo