Last year at a party in Seattle, someone asked me where I was from. California. What part? San Luis Obispo, a town halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
“And what are you doing in Seattle? she asked. “Are you visiting family or friends or something?” No, I explained, I have lived in Seattle for a dozen years, and I work for the county health department.
“But you just said that you are from California!”
For a few seconds, we just stared at each other over our drinks. We were speaking two different languages. To me, where you are from is where you grew up. I wasn’t born there, but I lived in San Luis from the time I was five until I was twenty. I might live elsewhere for the rest of my life, but I will always be from central California.
Could this woman possibly mean what she seemed to imply, that if a person picks up and lives somewhere a while, if she makes friends in a new place and receives mail there and has a favorite place to take a walk or have coffee, that she is from there?
I was reminded of this the other day in Ankara. My cousin Gülrü and I went shopping recently along the steep cobblestone streets that lead to the castle. In a jewelry store we met a young man named Yusuf, who was friendly and helpful as a salesman and not at all pushy. We chatted a bit, Gülrü bought some earrings, and as we left, he said, “We’ll be waiting for you another day. Come back, we'll drink tea.” A week later I had another opportunity to visit the castle and I took him up on his invitation, arriving with simit, smelling freshly baked and covered in golden sesame. Yusuf cheerfully called from the doorway for a neighborhood boy to fetch tea for us. As we touched on the the standard topics of small talk, I asked him where he was from.
“I am from Erzurum,” he said. “I mean, I was born in Ankara, and I have never been to Erzurum, but that’s where my family’s village is. That’s where we’re from.”