Where are you from? — by Susan Popoola

I’ve been networking for years so by now I should be prepared for the fact that if I go to a networking event or any other type of business gathering sooner or later someone is bound to turn to me and ask the question “were are you from?”  On the face of it, it’s a very simple question – in fact I’m told it’s supposed to be a nice icebreaker, which “naturally” follows on from the question – “what’s your name?” or as some tend to say, “who are you?”

By now I should have a ready response, but almost without fail, I freeze as I contemplate – “what do they want to know?” – Where do I live? What organisation do I work with? Where was I born? Or Where do I originate from?

Maybe I should just say something, anything and if it’s not what people want to hear, leave THEM to rephrase their question.  However, for some reason I don’t – if I’m to be honest, I simply can’t. I don’t know how to. It would not be honest of me and it would not be in line with my principals, my beliefs – possibly something about integrity.

I’m not saying I’ve never lied or done anything wrong, but it doesn’t come easy to me and it makes me feel uncomfortable. Not so much because of other people but rather something about being true to myself and who I am. Which leads on to the question who am I?

I’m a British born citizen, who originates from Nigeria by virtue of the fact that my parents who have now passed away are Nigerian.  Some would say that makes me Nigerian.  I better identify myself as British or a British Nigerian.  Anyway, I live in a place called Milton Keynes and being self-employed running my own companies I work anywhere around the country or in fact the world as a whole that my work takes me to.

The funny thing is that most people that has asked me where I’m from that I’ve asked for clarification have gone on to share their own story with me.  Telling me of what part of the country they were born in or grew up in, but where they now live.  Some go further to tell me something of their family history and where there families originate from – the country that they live in or a totally different country possibly in a different continent.  More often than not I would have never guessed the complexities of their history.

It’s possibly more apparent with people that are of mixed race backgrounds or dual heritage backgrounds.  Though I must say that even with this ever growing group it’s not always that apparent.  I was talking to a ‘black’ South African lady recently.  She told me how she was questioned by immigrations travellng from South Africa to a Britain with her British passport. “How did you get this passport?” she was asked in a not to pleasant manner.  She sarcastically explained her grandfather (an English man) came to South Africa and married her grandmother resulting in the birth of her mother.

However we may appear on the surface, the truth is that most of us live where we do as a result of our migration or that of our parents/grandparents or what have you from one part of a country to another; country to country; or even continental migration.  This becomes even more apparent when you look at local communities and see how view people leave near the relatives these days. You constantly hear people talking about how their family members live in different parts of the country/world and cherish Christmas as an opportunity to get together with as many family members as possible.   I was for instance talking to a lady yesterday, who has two sons, one living in Australia whilst the other is based in New Zealand.

It therefore makes me ponder why do so many of us tend to have such a negative and closed attitude towards migration.  I remember during President Barack Obama’s second inauguration, the song was sung, “This land was made for you and me”.  Who that you and me is and how it is determined is of unquestionable important.  There is no question – their needs to be some structure and possibly limitations to immigration, but can’t we be a bit more sensitive about it how we deal with it remembering where we all come from.

Or if you don’t mind me asking, really and truly – where are you from?

Susan Popoola

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