Brotherhood of St Laurence

Conference paper presented at The Australian Sociological Association (TASA) Conference. Social Causes, Private Lives (2010 : North Ryde, N.S.W.)

This paper interrogates the question 'where are you from' by drawing on our experiences and points of view as visibly different African migrants who get asked this 'quintessential question of identity' almost on a daily basis. While acknowledging that a certain 'curiosity' sometimes drives the asking of this question, we still question the implications and multiplicity of meanings to those whom it is asked. We contend that being asked the question raises three key issues for us. First, we perceive it as exclusionary, in that in a white dominated society it is asked, mainly of certain groups of people who are visibly different. Second, the assumption behind the question - that one is not 'from here', constructs an/other whose identity is fixed and tied only to one faraway place, thereby erasing our hyphenated identities, which define our everyday lived realities. Third, it invokes feelings of ambivalence about place when it is interpreted as demanding a justification of the claim to belonging and being 'from here'. Our paper shows that the question is a matter of identity politics and exposes the complexity of identity work that occurs whenever this question is asked of us. In so doing, it highlights the contradiction between our Australian 'selves' and migrant 'other'.



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