Jan 01

Where I'm 'from'

I have no idea where I’m “from.”
This question should be easy – I’ve lived in Vermont for nearly fifteen years. 
But when, like me, you define “from” as more than a place
– broader than a single pin on a map,
or one neat little zipcode –
it’s more complicated. 

To me, "from" is the idea of origin;
nothing to do with birthplace,
and everything to do with
what shapes our identities. 
I was born in Arizona,
yet my only archetypically southern traits are
a propensity to address groups of people as y’all 
and the strongly held opinion that cornbread should NOT be sweet.
This is my birthplace, but is this where I’m from?

When I was less than two, we moved to
my grandparents’ home:
NY state – not city; 
(a place is more than its cities,
eh Vermont?)
Shuttling back and forth between the suburbs
and a tiny mountain town.
This was my first experience of snow,
and swapping locations like hats ...
we moved again in less than a year.
So how could it be my place of origin?

We arrived in Vermont – 
surely this must be it;
I’m still here, aren’t I?
I stayed in one town for almost two years,
but once my parents separated,
my life resumed as the switcheroo game
it has been since, never more than a week at
one house, the locations of which changed constantly.

I’m “from”
3 states
10 towns;
I’ve moved 12 times
and switched between houses about 1,508 times
in 17 years.

I’m from one country ...
or so you’d think.
I’m an American citizen;
I was born here, so were my parents,
and I am thankful for that.
Some of my many grandparents 
(which is a long story for a different time) 
weren’t.

My family had children young – they’ve been here
for about 50 years;
it’s ages, and at the same time,
none at all. 
Half a century, 
a third generation,
and still part of me is from
a mid-sized Slavik country,
from a tradition of orthodox Catholicism,
from respect and resilience; 
of hiding chickens in car trunks
to be smuggled in the dead of night.
No, this wasn’t a prank.
This is how you survive a communist regime. 

My grandparents’ stories are fairytales,
in their essence of hidden dangers and veiled warnings;
of secret police, the dangers of a controlling government,
and hiding gold under the floorboards.
Because we were the lucky ones, 
the ones that made it to America,
I am grateful for this,
and with all its flaws,
I love this country.

But does that mean I can’t still love the taste
of sarmales,
the swoosh of the tassels on the traditionally embroidered shirt in my closet,
waiting for sometime,
somewhere
where it will be welcomed into my life?
Or the shape of my great-grandmother’s greeting: 
“Ce mai faci?” 
How are you? 
“Foarte bine!"
Very good.

I wish I had the words to tell her
that though I’m sure we wouldn’t agree on many things, 
I am grateful. I’m grateful that this is where I get to live.
Though I may not know where I’m from,
I’m glad this is where I am,
and more importantly 
who I am. 
So I just hug her and say, 
“Mulțumesc.” 
Thank you.