It's tough for me to define "where I'm from". How indeterminate, for it only begs more questions. Is being from a place is about having been born there? Having grown up there? Having one's family roots there? Is it the place one chooses as an adult? Last year, author Taiye Selasi helped answer some of these questions in her TED Talk during which she suggested that the question "where are you a local" is far more valuable than the question "where are you from".
I tend to form deep relationships with meaningful places, the several communities that I'd describe as being really fundamental to my identity and how I experience the world. I love to visit new places, but I equally (or more so) value the roots that ground me in places that are particularly meaningful to me. Wine lovers might think of this as the terroir that gives each person -- like a fine wine -- such unique character. I find that this is often on the minds of those who travel often or are meaningfully connected with family and friends in different places.
I've been thinking of this post for quite a while, but it seemed right for the holidays when the places that we think of as home are so often on our minds. The questions "where are you from" or "where are you a local", for what it's worth, also make much more compelling Christmas party small talk than the dreaded urban-dwelling rat race inquiry "so what do you do?" Give it a try the next time you meet someone.
I get a jumble of answers, ten different towns and cities, when I answer my own questions above: Where was I born, where did I grow up, where are my family roots, where have I chosen to spend time as an adult? Arlington, VA (Washington, DC) and Provincetown, MA are repeat answers... but so is New York, a city that I am decidedly not from. Taiye Selasi, in framing the question "where are you a local", however, gives us something more concrete to work with. She suggests that "our experience is where we're from", that one's localness (so to speak), is the confluence of three factors:
Rituals. What are your daily rituals? Where do these rituals occur? In what city or cities do shopkeepers know your face?
Relationships. Who are the people who shape your days? To whom do you speak at least once a week? Who shapes your weekly emotional experience? These relationships are home.
Restriction. Where are you able to live? What passport do you hold? Are you restricted by racism, from feeling fully at home, from otherwise living in the locality where you most feel at home?
What I love about Selasi's insight here is how well it nails what I already could tell you about "where I'm a local". Arlington, Provincetown, New York, and Berkeley Springs, WV check all three of the Ritual - Relationship - Restriction boxes for me. I'd tell you that I'm a local in those places. I've never lived in Madrid (Spain) but I've chosen to spend enough time there that it definitely checks the ritual box, though it isn't home to anyone who "shapes my days". My family roots -- in addition to the aforementioned Arlington, Provincetown, and New York -- are in Grundsund (Sweden), Las Vegas, and Los Angeles; I did some growing up in Beaver, PA. I'm not a local in any of those places today, though. Marriage complicates it all further, as the people and experiences Meghan has brought to my life earn Marion, MA an honorable mention spot on my list.
Try this little game on your own or when you travel to see family and friends this winter. You might be surprised at what you learn.
Pictured: Six wonderful communities where I love to spend my time. I've roots in some, "from" a couple, and would consider myself a "local" in four.