“Where are you from?” I always hated that question growing up. Do you mean where was I born? Or where did I live last? Or where do my parents live? Or where do I live now? My answers range from Argentina to Chicago to Virginia to Pennsylvania to North Carolina. I didn’t have an answer until recently…
Moving to a new place can be scary. I remember being terrified every time my parents would sit my sister and I down on the couch and say we would be moving again. It was always that same couch- green and white stripes that slowly faded over the years. We’d sit in the middle, flanked by our parents, as time after time they told us we were being “called” elsewhere (and no, I do not come from a military family). I lived in 15 houses by the time I was 15. My world was constantly changing, my friends were constantly changing, and my life often felt unstable.
Looking back, I am surprisingly grateful for all of those moves. They taught me how to be strong, how to quickly make new friends, how to deal with change, and how to read people. I am shaped by my circumstances and I am better for them.
When I moved to North Carolina for college, I was finally moving on my own accord- away from home and to a state I had never called home. It was exhilarating to make my own choice and to be in control of something as simple as my location. I could finally be free and grow my own wings. North Carolina has become my home. I’ve lived here for 5 years and when people ask me where I’m from, I now always say NC. I no longer identify with my home up north. I say I’m from the south. And I think I act like it too.
I was recently faced with a dilemma. I had to choose between moving further south to Georgia or moving back up north (near my family) to Pennsylvania. It was hard for me to make this decision. On the one hand my career would be better advanced in Pennsylvania, but I could not mentally let go of my new southern identity.
After much soul-searching, I realized it was not the southern identity I was holding on to, it was who I have become in the time I have lived here. North Carolina is my symbol of freedom- both my freedom to choose my own location and my freedom to become who I always wanted to be. 5 years ago I didn’t know who I was. I was insecure, confused by how I identified myself, and unsure of what I wanted. To this day, I’m still learning about myself, but I know so much more about who I am. And that image isn’t clouded by my family’s influence and opinions, the people who I grew up with, or really anyone’s opinion but my own. Letting go of this state isn’t emotional simply because of the location, it’s because of who I am, in this very moment. Because I love this person and don’t want to let it go.
I ultimately chose to return to Pennsylvania. I’m leaving in a month and I’m finally excited. This realization has allowed me to acknowledge that I am again choosing my own fate and with that, I’m bringing the new and improved version of myself back to the state I left so eagerly. It is not where I am or where I am from that defines me; it’s who I am and who I choose to be a part of me.
So next time you want to ask someone where they’re from, try asking them instead what has defined them. For some, that may very well be where they are from, but for others like myself, you may be surprised by the answer.
“You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place…like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.”