The ONE question I have been asked most frequently throughout my life: Where Are You From?
I sometimes respond: Would you like the long or short version?
The tally on that one is 50-50.
I sometimes ask in return: Where do you think I am from?
Then I entertain myself with inaccuracies and guesses that are truly amusing…Hawaii…to Ethiopia…
Sometimes I go off on a tangent and tell a cool fact about mitochondrial DNA, which is only passed down through the mother, and how my sister’s cheek cells analysis in a college science lab course revealed that my mother’s ancestry can be traced back to, interestingly, Finland and Italy!
So, although I am sure I could have written something a bit more fascinating about myself here…like the fact that I can sometimes visualize the impact of ellipses and hence the frequent usage when I don’t edit heavily…I decided to simply answer the most popular question.
Annie Syed, a second-generation American, was born to a father whose family migrated from Bukhara, Uzbekistan with enduring Arab ancestry and a mother whose family originates from India and what is now Kashmir, began her journey in this world in Pakistan, spending her pre-adolescent years in a remote village near the Wadi al-Dawasir desert in Saudi Arabia, and eventually the United States (including New York, Texas, Kansas, finding her way “permanently” back to New York City as her family “permanently” settled in California). She attained her B.A. from the University of Kansas in English Literature and International Studies and her Master’s in Secondary English Education from City College in New York where she was a NYC Department of Education teacher. She then went on to receive her J.D. from CUNY School of Law in New York and thereafter completed a clerkship for a judge.
When under the spell of equanimity, she works on completing a book manuscript, along with two other “writing projects” (as if one is not enough), masquerading as a lawyer or educator (depending on work opportunities). She orbits a bi-coastal and trans-continental life on planet earth doing yoga as often as possible.
I have moved around extensively and therefore have picked up different values, socially, situationally, and symbolically, from each particular culture. I have learned to pick the best from each culture while still being able to acknowledge the existence of traits or traditions I don’t approve. Human evolution is dependent on critical thinking. I have learned that as means of natural selection, the most generalized species have a better chance of survival, and the same goes for culture. I believe there is such a thing as a general human culture which may overlap the basic human needs, and then a society eventually adapts itself to the resources around it, making a different culture. My experiences reflect that when a culture changes it is not necessarily destroyed.
The word “immigrate” comes from the Old Latin word “immigratum,” proxy of imigrare which meant “to remove, go into, move in,” from the stem migrare, “to move.”
Some of us are intrinsically immigrants even if we never left our birth villages or returned after having left. We would feel compelled to remove, move and shift the status quo of our communities without ever departing.
Even when I was younger it never seemed challenging to claim more than one particular ethnicity or nationality. Now I realize given how I was raised, it could not have been any other way no matter where I grew up and I am grateful for that. Something I am still kneading in my mind: were it not for being raised in the United States this gratitude would not come as easily, no matter the diversity other countries have to offer.
“But I too have ropes around my neck,
I have them to this day, pulling me
this way and that, East and West,
the nooses tightening, commanding,
I buck, I snort, I whinny, I rear, I kick.
Ropes, I do not choose between you.
Lassoes, lariats, I choose neither of you, and both.
Do you hear? I refuse to choose.”
–From East, West
I claim communities and not countries where ever I wander and the energy feels home.
If you read this far and remain curious, here is an essay, “Soul of the Sea,” which I wrote to anwer the second most frequently asked question: “Who are you?”
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