Reframing the common question “Where are you from?”

Language matters. What we ask matters.

For too long, we have been socialized to ask and answer the common question “Where are you from?”

For many Black people and Indigenous communities, this question is triggering because of unknown and/or traumatic, severed pasts due to colonialism. We must remember that personal stories, lineages, cultures, and authentic histories have suffered from systemic erasure globally. 

Asking “Where are you from?” continues to otherize folx who identify as BBIA, adopted, multicultural, and more. 

For the AAPI community, this question reinforces that we do not belong, and is too often followed up with “But where are you really from?” — indicating a displeasure with and refusal of whatever answer originally given, as if to comment that a person could not possibly be from anywhere other than what is close to or matches the mental stereotype within one’s colonized mind.

Decolonize the idea that the question “Where are you from?” must be answered with a geographical location. 

We are from what we say we are from, who we say we are from, where we say we are from, and anything we say we are from that is authentic to who we are.

We each have a multiplicity of identities, and we define for our individual selves if and how we want to respond to this question when we inevitably continue to be asked this throughout our lives.

Our intent matters, and our impact matters.

Reflect on the intent in asking and being asked “Where are you from?”

Regardless of whether the intent in asking meets a surface-level desire to know masked under the false pretense of curiosity that only satisfies the person who asks the question or aims to build one’s understanding, having internalized this question as a truth-bearer of identity, the impact of asking can be harmful, toxic, and traumatic, especially with repetition.

We must reframe the common question “Where are you from?” so that we do not further perpetuate stereotypes, nor do we reduce people to only be representatives of their assumed and/or authentic social groups.

Create and continuously recreate new questions with the intent of building deep understanding across communities and cultures. Involve your communities in this process of reimagination. 

“What do you choose to share about your identity/identities?”

“Where do you call home?”

“Who is your community?”

Freedom dream new ways to define and share who you are — for yourself.

Listen intently and fully to the questions, ideas, stories, emotions, and arts shared with reimagined questions to understand your own self, your community/communities, and fellow communities.

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Music is dance AND dance is music!

“Music is dance AND dance is music!” exclaimed a first grader today. This declaration made me critically analyze and reflect on my own understanding of music and dance. Here are a few thoughts I have:

The forced division of music and dance into separate disciplines that do not interact is colonization at work. There is nothing that dictates the separation of the two aside from the colonization of our minds.

The lived intersection of music and dance is critical to multiple cultures of the global majority. The intersections vary for each culture – all of which should be amplified in the arts. 

Music and dance simply do not exist separately. In certain societies, no general terms exist for music and dance. 

Start your research at the indigenous music and dance of Papua New Guinea, Suyá, and Blackfoot peoples. This is a non-comprehensive list and simply a suggestion for a starting point.

The convergence of music and dance is not monolithic and cannot be applied universally to all cultures. Generalizing will only lead to erasure of individual voices in each culture.

Take critical care in understanding the nuances of music and dance in cultures of the global majority. We must always care deeply for BBIA peoples, their individual realities, and their collective experiences as practitioners of music and dance.

Upon reading and researching, decolonize your understanding of music and dance as separate art forms. Arrive at new understandings of music and dance as you continue to learn.

Authentically envision arts in your community to include the bold and unified intersection of music and dance. Once again, there is nothing that dictates us to uphold the status quo of white supremacy aside from the colonization of our minds.

Empower musicians and dancers to critique and redefine the narratives shared when music and dance come together. Actively critique and redefine the narratives as the convergence of music and dance renews itself through each musician, dancer, and arts practitioner. 

Then keep going.