What It Means to Be "From" Somewhere
I've been watching wildfires consume my childhood the last few days, as they do every few years. It breaks my heart every time. And it brings memories rushing back from a much simpler time in my life. I can feel the sway, riding Candy, Repeater Pete or Little Bit from the school bus stop to my grandfather's mobile home. See Red Man tobacco pouches and Crystal Gayle cassette cases tucked into the beat-up truck seat. Smell manzanita bushes and woodsmoke in cool mountain air.
That's been a long time gone, though. In fact, I spent some time in Nova Scotia earlier this summer, and my lack of any discernible accent at all attracted attention. Typical pleasantries led to questions of provenance, and saying I was from New York triggered a few looks of confusion and one baldly stated, "You don't have that accent."
It's true. I have the lack of accent that news presenters try to learn from vocal coaches. Which brings me to the issue of what it means to be "from" somewhere. I am from New York, in that I've lived or been based in the state since I was about 10. Nowhere near NYC. My identity was formed well before that, though, in western Nevada. And I'm from northern California by birth, not far from those wildfires.
The accent may go back farther, though. Half of my mom's California family began among the earliest Europeans in Massachusetts (we owned Maine, before it was a state); the other half were among the earliest Europeans in New Jersey, and then farmed in Iowa for generations. My dad's family are pure Connecticut Yankees, who stepped off boats from Ireland and Sweden a little more than a hundred years ago. So perhaps I'm "from" Grass Valley, Ipswich, Letts, Monmouth, Hartford, Ferbane and Laholm.
All of this comes to mind because of the research I'm doing right now. The subject of my work is from Iran. His family is from Iran. As far as I know, they go back so far in the country that no one may recall when they weren't from Iran. That is an idea as foreign to me as the culture. How different his idea of being "from" a place must be.