“Where are you really from?”
Marie Zafimehy

Being a South American-born, Australia-raised immigrant, who spent the last two years living in Indonesia and lacking an easily identifiable accent (I regularly get British, sometimes South African, only occasionally Australian and often just confused), combined with a Mediterranean/Southern European appearance, this is something I can certainly identify with.

As a tourist destination Bali is a melting pot for people from every corner of the Earth and questioning someone’s background is a standard, and in this context I think acceptable, ice-breaker, where everyone is on an even playing field. However, I can understand how having to deal with this in your ‘home’ country could be disconcerting.

That said, I believe I was immunised against this as Australia is largely an immigrant country and being asked about your ‘natio’ is par for the course, a question often coming from other immigrants or the descendants thereof merely expressing benign curiosity.

Context and delivery is everything. Being patronisingly questioned by a ‘local’ as if you couldn’t possibly be one too would annoy anyone i’m sure.

Despite the increasingly globalised and connected nature of the world, I think it will be quite some time before questioning someone’s ethnic background becomes passé, and i’m not sure that it should.

If, like me, you did identify to some extent with your country of birth, or somewhere else you had lived, would you want to be whitewashed and have people assume your identity is shaped only by where you happen to be at that moment in time?

A great thought-piece on cultural identity is the following TED talk, which asks people to consider where they are a ‘local’, rather than where they were born, or even where they currently live: