03 October, 2015

Ask me where I'm a local

Inspired by this interesting TED talk, today I asked an Asian-looking friend who sounds very American, "Where are you a local?" Her immediate answer was "LA". Her answer to the question, "Where are you from?" would have been lot more complex. She's spent time in various places in the States, her parents were both immigrants from Asia, and she now lives in Japan.
This place is part of my weekly routine in Tokyo.

This TED talk is fast and a little complex, but the essence is summarised in the title: 
"Don't ask where I'm from, ask where I'm a local."
The difference between these two questions is intention. If you ask where someone is from, it is trying to pigeon-hole them, or it even can be a question of power. It means you start to get to know them from a collection of assumptions and cliches. 

However if you ask about locality, you're trying to understand them. Understand their relationships, the acts that make up their daily lives and what restrictions there are in their lives. I think it is a fantastic question and one that I intend to use more from now on.

For example, from my own life, even before I came to Japan, when someone asked me, "Where are you from?" I tended to say the town I grew up in, though I hadn't lived there since I was 17. Where I moved to for uni was the "big smoke" from the town I grew up in and until I'd lived there a while as an adult I never felt I could identify myself to others as "coming from" there.

Though much of my family still lives there and I have a lot of connections with the town. I no longer feel like a local there. My daily routines aren't rooted there and I'm not known by many.

Now we've moved to Japan, the question, "Where are you from?" is even more complex, because I've spent more time out of Australia than in in the last 15 years. But  though I live in Japan, I'm on a visa, and an Australian passport. So I'm limited in my life in Japan. However, my daily routines are in my corner of Tokyo. The people I see and talk to on a weekly basis are here.

Ask me where I "am a local" and I'm inclined to answer, "Brisbane" (even though I haven't technically lived there for 10 years, last year we lived just over the border in Ipswich) and "Tokyo". In fact I've lived in Tokyo for more than eight years now, longer than I've lived anywhere except Toowoomba, where I grew up.

So, where are you a local? And would you prefer people asked you that question rather than the loaded, "Where are you from?"


-J said...

Very easy way to get to the heart. Great concept! Thanks for sharing.

Wendy said...

Yes. Our world has changed and languages don't seem to have a good way to describe the sort of people who have multiple "homes" and localities where they feel at home. This is part of a way towards changing how we find out about others.