Where are you from?
Hello my name is Colin Gill and this is my first blog for the Teach Abroad Spain blog. I was meaning to post earlier but the last couple of months have been quite busy trying to settle into my position as a Language Assistant and other life events.
I have been living in Spain for nearly three months now and a question that I have been thinking about and reflecting on is when someone asks, "Where are you from?". For me, this question is not usually because of my physical appearance, but rather when I speak in Spanish and an accent is detected. Or when I write something in Spanish with grammatical errors. At first I did not think much of this question, until recently when someone messaged me on a dating app saying, "Hello beautiful, you must be a foreigner because your Spanish is quite bad. Lets meet." Did he actually think I would meet up with him with such a statement? Not only was I taken aback by his rude comment, but I was also painstakingly reminded that no matter what I am an outsider here. Additionally, it made me reflect on the ways in which I am privileged in the USA. I am white and I have a "Standard American Accent" [whatever that actually means]. For example, when I go into a grocery store, go on a date, order a coffee, etc. I will be assumed to be an "insider" in U.S. society. No one back home will ask where I am from. I will be assumed to be an American.
The question of "Where are you from?" made me also remember discussions I have had with my friends back in Seattle who are people of colour and frequently receive comments such as, "You speak English so well!" or "Where are you REALLY from?". When in fact, most of them have lived in the U.S.A. for decades and sometimes longer than my own family. They are American. Nonetheless, they are treated and viewed as outsiders in U.S. society. I was aware of these instances of othering that my friends encountered, however, I had never experienced first-hand what it means to be an outsider based on accent or nationality. Certainly I have faced othering due to my sexual orientation and genderqueer identity. But this felt different because it's based on my accent and nationality.
Because of my skin colour many people will not look at me physically as an outsider in Spain. I will never experience the same form of systemic oppression that a person of colour faces. Yet, being asked multiple times, "Where are you from?" is getting tiresome and is a constant reminder that I am an outsider. Not to mention it reinforces in my anxiety ridden mind that my Spanish is no where near perfect and will never be my mother tongue no matter how hard I try.
Thus far, I think this experience of being othered because of my accent has helped me develop a deeper empathy for people immigrating to new countries. I will state clearly that this experience in no way erases my white and class privilege, but it has helped me better understand why the question of "Where are you from?" can be problematic and signify your status as an outsider. Being an outsider enables you to see things that may be missed by the insiders within a society.
If you have experienced something similar please feel to share with me. Until next time, hasta luego!