Where are you from?
Immigrants are supposed to come here for vacation, work, political refuge, but we’re not supposed to declare “home” as our destination
July 21, 2006
First aired on KQED Public Radio, 88.5 FM, San Francisco on July 20, 2006, 7:37 a.m >>> Audio
“So where are you from?” a guy in a coffee shop asked me the other day.
For a few years nobody asked me this question, but lately it’s made a comeback.
“Iran,” I answer.
I once made the mistake of calling America my home. I was twelve and my mother had just handed me my first immigration form.
I’d been here since I was five. In the space of a few years I’d started sounding like a “real American,” as my parents put it. Both of them were over forty when we came here—they’d never be comfortable with English—so that year they put me in charge of the immigration forms.
Under the line designated “home country” I wrote “America.”
The INS officer frowned, marked my answer with a check mark.
Immigrants are supposed to come here for vacation, work, political refuge, but we’re not supposed to declare “home” as our destination.
I know because with that one word—“home”--I sent my family out of the country. Two years passed before we could get another visa to America, and nobody trusted me with immigrations forms after that.
“Hey, you’re famous now,” says the guy in the coffee shop and points at one of the day’s newspaper headlines.
“Axis of Evil,” he offers.
I study him: blue eyes, blond hair. But was that an accent I just heard?
“Where are you from?” I ask.
He seems surprised by the question.
He says, “Kansas, actually.”
I’m thinking of blue states and red states, of that moment when things might have gone a different direction, when the axis might have shifted and the ground beneath my feet settled into something more like, well, home.
“You’re pretty famous yourself,” I say.
I’m bracing myself for an argument, maybe even an ugly one, but what he says finally is this: “There’s no place like home.” Then he says it again,“There’s no place like home.”
And it strikes me that this is exactly what an immigrant knows, and never forgets: No matter what your passport says about you, home is always a fiction-or else a fighting word. But after twenty five years in this country, you learn to have a sense of humor—at least occasionally--so I laugh at the guy.
And then we go back to reading our newspapers.
With a perspective, this is Jasmin Darznik >>> Audio