When someone asks me, “Where are you from,” my usual, terse reply is, “New York.” Being one of the more populous states, saying “New York” is never good enough. My response is usually followed by another query, “Oh, where in New York?” I used to say New York City, but that leads to further questions about from where, specifically, in New York City I hail, so I’ve taken to saying, “The Bronx.”
But even this response has its caveats. I was born in a hospital in far north Manhattan, so I guess, technically, I’m from Manhattan. And after being freed from that hospital and released into the wild, I lived in the Bronx, so if you don’t count my brief stay in the hospital that immediately followed my birth, I’m from the Bronx.
The problem is, I only lived in the Bronx for about nine months. I have no memory of my time there, and so I wonder about the legitimacy of claiming that I am from New York/New York City/The Bronx in the first place.
So if not the Bronx, then where am I from?
We left New York for the suburbs of New Jersey, and I spent the next seven years there. It was in New Jersey that I learned to read; it was in New Jersey that I checked out my first library book; it was in New Jersey that I discovered astronomy, and got my first telescope, and saw the rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter.
The problem is that I have no real connection to New Jersey. I am a lifelong New York Yankees fan, and I come by this legitimately, but for New Jersey, I feel no particular fealty.
Then, at the beginning of second grade, we moved from New Jersey to New England, and specifically, to Warwick, Rhode Island, where I spent the next four years. I never became a Patriots fan, but I did start to think of myself as a New Englander, although not enough to claim it as the place that I am from when asked that question.
After completing fifth grade, we moved again, this time to a suburb of Los Angeles, California. I would remain in California for the next 19 years. I was educated in California, attending junior high school, high school, and college there. After college, I began my career in California—at the same company at which I am employed today, more than 22 years later.
I didn’t particularly like California when I lived there, but I have grown fond of it in the 15 years since I moved away. And if I am asked, “Where did you grow up?” as opposed to “Where are you from?” I usually say, “I grew up in L. A.”
After leaving Los Angeles, I moved first to Maryland, where I spent about 6 years, and finally to Virginia, where I live today.
I supposed that an honest, accurate answer to the question, “Where are you from?” would be, “Well, I was born in the Bronx, grew up in New Jersey and Rhode Island, was educated in California, and then returned to the east coast to live and work in the mid-Atlantic states.”
All three of my kids are Virginians, something that, as a New Yorker/New Englander/Californian is hard for me to believe despite the evidence for it in front of me every day. When they are asked they question, their answer, at least, will be a lot simpler than mine.