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“Where are you from?”

“Where am I from?”

This question has always caused me no end of consternation, and for this reason my meditations on the idea of “place,” “where,” and “belonging” will most certainly extend infinitely. Or at least until my “place” is six feet under.

(I’m lying, of course. I intend to be cremated. But “six feet under” is a more powerful phrase than “scattered and randomly dissipated across a small area of dirt and/or water.”)

My husband knows exactly where he is from. He was born and lived in the same place until he left home, and he is the third generation to have done so. He can go back there and many people know him and remember him.

There is only one place I could go where anyone would know me, but that is a place I lived for 14 years of my adult life. I don’t think that counts.

On an official government form, I would respond that I am “from” Hayward, California. That is where the hospital was. Never lived there, worked there, just one small piece of the urban sprawl that is the San Francisco Bay Area.

On a less official form or in a face to face situation, I will claim to be from Oakland, California. My reasoning: one can drive from Hayward into Oakland and never even realize a border has been crossed. Also, lots more people know where Oakland is, or at least have heard of it. And finallly, it legitimizes my rooting for the Raiders.

I only lived in the Bay Area until I was 9, then we moved to Mendocino, where I spent my formative years, graduated, then got the hell out, as was expected of everyone. It is not a place you stay. Can I be “from” there? Sure, who’s gonna know, but it seems to be a stretch. There is no one left there who would know me, which doesn’t seem like much of a hometown.

And so, like many Californians, I would imagine, we have to legally and socially be “from” somewhere, but we don’t really feel it. There isn’t the heartwrenching, visceral connection, stretching down through generations (none of my elders are “from” California), there is just the desire for it.

I suppose the only viable solution would be to move to Hayward and invest myself in the community by making connections, working, living, etc. But have you been to that concrete jungle? Bleh.

Perhaps rootless is the way to go.

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