kaigou: you live and learn. at any rate, you live. - doug adams (2 live and learn)
[personal profile] kaigou
[belated realization: this is not a question I'd ask if I met you outside the South and we weren't at my home. This is a question asked by a host of a guest, and I honestly cannot recall ever seeing it the other way around (not counting the host's concurrence after a guest completes the response). As "home" counts as a kind of "Southern turf" regardless of geographic location, that might be why I can recall asking guest-Northerners visiting my home when I lived in RI... but even in the South, it's not a question I'd ask as a guest. It's certainly not something I'd ever ask, or have ever asked, just to make conversation. When I say it's part of the formalities, I'm using "formality" intentionally. Just FYI.]

This is riffing off the previous post re the US Deep South, in that it occurred to me to write something out thanks to [personal profile] taithe's comment -- but it's something I've bandied about mentally, many a time, over the past few years. (This is not to say this kind of question or its message isn't important in other geographic/sociocultural regions. I'm sure it is, although maybe asked/approached differently.) Your Southern mileage may vary, but upon meeting new people (especially in a social/casual situation), this is a question I've seen asked many times in my life, have been asked many times, and have found myself asking many times.

Where's your family from?

Now, I've also read plenty about how people -- whether recent or farther-back immigrants -- who do not look some generic form of "white" or "black" (which both tend to be classed as, "been here awhile") -- will get asked (usually by white USians), "where are you from? Pittsburgh? No, where are you really from?"

This is an annoying, and patronizing, question. Absolutely! So I figured maybe it's time I explained that when a Southerner asks you the question above -- where's your family from? -- that this is NOT the same question. In fact, if the purpose of "where are you from?" is to to prove (if unconsciously) that you are not a 'real' American, the purpose of the Southern version is quite different. It's for you to demonstrate that your family matters to you.

How NOT to answer the question.

1. I grew up in Cincinnati and went to college in Montana and now I live in Portland, Oregon.

Fail, because: the question is Not. About. You.

The question's object is your family. Answering like the above sounds like you're trying to avoid talking about your family. To the average Southerners I've known, nothing is more suspicious than someone who won't cop to having a family (of any sort).

2. My family's from Korea/Scotland/Kenya/I don't know.

If this is your first instinct for a reply, you've probably become immune and/or inured to the annoying form of the "where are you from" bit. This doesn't just miss the purpose of the question; it also gives the impression that you are now (in the US) thousands of miles away from the rest of your family. That makes you, effectively, adrift in a world where you have no roots... and this is bad, because family at that distance makes you an unknown or incomprehensible variable. Even if the Southerner asking doesn't put it in so many words, that's the subtle reaction/interpretation: you are miles from home, with no guiding star of nearby family.

3. I have two brothers. Our parents are deceased/out-of-touch/I don't know.

Deceased is still family. It's still part of your history. After a certain age, any listener will assume your grandparents probably aren't still alive, and your great-grandparents are long gone. Get past your thirties and listeners may even assume your parents may still not be alive. Which is to say: the alive-ness or not of any named family member is irrelevant. It's whether you know who your family is.

You might get a better sense of the term here if you think of it as "clan" or "tribe" -- the extended, historical, antecedents that led to you. Current lower branches -- cousins, siblings, and extended downward are the latest generation and onward; they're not antecedents.

Remember, the question is "where is your family from" (operative term being 'from', as in 'came from', as in 'history or origin'). The most common follow-up to it is, "where is your family now?" That's the signal to recite where your parents currently live, what siblings you have and what they do, cousins, really-really-close friends who are practically family (whether family-friends who became aunt/uncle or known-all-your-life-peers). If anyone is deceased, the follow-up question is usually where you divulge that; your answers to the first question were how you established the cast of characters.

Cultural side-note: the South was (and to some degree, still is) strongly agricultural, so land is the biggest issue -- especially since a lot of the Borderlands & Scots who came to the South were landless, so "owning land" was a massive step up, even if that land consisted of scrub that barely raised pigs and collards and pokeweed, let alone higher-class animals like sheep or cattle. Most Southerners don't farm, these days, but the patterns are still there... so to be someone who doesn't register the roots/base of a family (that is, place = land = roots), is someone who is probably going to be treated with some some (unconscious or not) suspicion. On top of that, many Scots who settled in/around the Inland South were fleeing the Proscriptions (and later, the Clearances); I guess when your new overlords tell you that you could be shot on sight for saying your surname/clan-name, getting to a new country -- where no one, supposedly/hopefully, will be shooting you or your children -- may make you especially clingy to the sense of extended family. Like, perhaps, that you have a lot to make up for, or to rebuild, in the wake of a failed rebellion and brutal suppression.

I'm not sure that's the whole story of why the Deep South is so big on knowing/respecting family to the ninth and tenth degree. Regardless, I don't doubt it played some role, given how many other things (cuisine, phrases, and so on) are clearly influenced by, or derived from, Borderlands and Highlands culture.

A little more information about what it means to be from, and the expected answer-pattern.

A. You are not 'from' where you are currently living, unless you've lived in the same place your entire life.

When I lived in RI, my then-SO and I were visiting the same NY friends mentioned in a previous/related post. While in Manhattan with them, we ran into other friends of theirs. Introductions all around.

NY friends: And these are our friends ___ and ___, who are from Rhode Island.
Me & SO: Woah, no, no, we're not.
NY friends: But that's where you live.
Me: Right, but we're not from there. I'm from Georgia.
SO: I'm from Mississippi.
NY friends: But we thought you moved to Rhode Island from Virginia?
Me & SO: Well, yeah. But that doesn't mean we're from Virginia.

That was a quintet of some Very Baffled Northerners. To them, you are 'from' wherever you live. To a Southerner, you live where you live, but you are 'from' wherever the majority of your family resides. Normally this is the same as where you grew up, but in this day of multi-moves through childhood, it's a bit more fluid.

Technically, I could say I'm 'from' eastern Tennessee, central Alabama, Georgia, or coastal Mississippi, since I have family throughout. I could also say I'm 'from' either Virginia or Georgia; I lived in Georgia from ages 1-3 and from ages 5-8, and in Virginia from ages 3-5 and again from ages 10-25. Thing is, I don't have any family in Virginia prior to my parent's generation, while I do have lots of family all over Georgia. (My father was raised in south Georgia, in the same town where my mother went to college.) Most importantly for me, I consider my early grade school years to have been my most formative, so I ignore Virginia as being too early to recall, and then too late to be childhood: thus, I prefer to say I'm from Georgia.

B. Name names, give details.

How I answer the question (but with surnames dropped off since this is internet-posting):

My mother is a [surname] from Mississippi, and my father is a [surname] from southern Georgia. My mother's mother was a [surname], but not the Atlanta [surname]s, the Montgomery [surname]s. My mother's father's family raised horses in Jonesboro, Tennessee. My father's father was originally from Indiana, but he came down to southern Georgia as a carpenter during the Great Depression and married my grandmother, who was a nurse. She was a [surname] from the northwestern corner of Georgia.

If I'm really on a roll (or being tested), I can go back another three or four generations on some of the branching. It's common to drop off the surnames for the paternal backwards branching, since it was only recently that women started keeping their own names upon marriage. Otherwise, it's safe to assume that my mother's maiden name is the same as her father's family, so unless the surnames change between father and daughter, you only need to reference female maiden names.

Notice that I threw in little details about my grandparents. Where I get foggy or want to trim the recitation, I include that kind of information as compensation for not carrying out to the nth degrees. I do the same when details are vague due to house fires, disease, war, emigration, or family scattered by remarriage. You usually get a free pass for those, all of which were pretty common in the past. Other than a few remarkably snobbish bad apples -- who I wouldn't care to have in my family, anyway -- I've never met anyone who holds a dead-end against a person. What matters more is an expression (explicit or implicit) that if you could know more about that side of the family, you'd like to, and isn't it a pity that something cut off that branch of the family tree.

If you don't know surnames or specifics (or the family didn't have formal surnames at that time), replace with the town/area: "a small coastal village in France a stone's throw from Calais," or "a suburb in north-west Shanghai". Or go with generalities but bolster it with what that family-branch did for a living: "a cooper from some little town in the Western Ukraine" or "journalist and school-teacher from Saigon who immigrated in the 1920s".

(You can also regain the points these days, if you have a genealogist in the family who's using the internet. Just say something about how s/he has made progress, and "the family hopes we'll be able to re-connect with those long-lost cousins". Southerners are all about reconnecting with long-lost cousins.)

C. Blood is not nearly as important as you might think it is.

To say, "so-and-so is like a sister to me" is, for many modern Southerners, amounts to family; what matters is the connection. If you were adopted, you can recite birth-parents if you know them, or you can just recite adoptive-parents and take it back however many generations. (Whether you note the adoption -- yours or any previous generations -- is entirely up to you.) If you've got a set of "second parents" who were there for you as a child, count them, too. If you know their family, you might go back a generation or so, if you like. Remember, the more you know, the more you're demonstrating the value of family to you, so if you know someone else's family (ie, the aunt/uncle-type who are old family friends), that's a sign that they really matter to you, that they're an important part of your life.

Yes, I have been known to add in my aunts/uncles who were in the military with my father, or attended school with my mother. These usually get counted in with sibling and cousin information. You could consider adoptive (formally or informally) family to be part of the 'current' or existing generation, unless they raised you, I suppose.

Frex, I have/had two great-great-aunts who aren't just non-relation, they're relations several times removed. One was a younger sister to my mother's mother's youngest aunt's closest girlfriend, and the other was the eldest child of the governess who raised my great-uncle's wife. Yes, really. One of them also became my sister's godmother, but she was already Great-Aunt Kitty -- to my mother! It never occurred to me growing up that there was anything unusual about a Mississippi-Presbyterian family with a Great-Great-Aunt who was a Russian Jew who'd immigrated to the States when she was six, nor I did think anything of having cousins from one of the oldest Jewish families in New Orleans. We called them all "Cousin". How or why we were related wasn't important when we were all playing in the creek.

This is about connections, not what's on your birth certificate.

D. Be proud.

That's right. In answering, you are expected to show pride in where (the family) you came from -- and in this case, it's quite alright to do a little boasting. I've met people who've muttered and mumbled their way through an explanation, and I'm self-aware enough to know that I had an instantaneous dislike of them for it. What, were they ashamed of their family? If they were, how would they then treat my family, should we become connected? I'm proud of my extended family ties, after all. I don't like the idea of someone joining who's so disrespectful.

So, yeah, on both sides of my family, it's only a generation or two and we're scraping dirt-poor in the heart of Appalachia. So freaking what! I still say the family-name with pride. Imagine it as with capital letters, and it don't matter that the northern Mississippi [surname]s were poor as dirt or the Montgomery [surname]s split decisively when a first-born son (who was also a Methodist minister) murdered his mistress, or murdered someone, I can't recall now, or that the [surname]s from Montgomery weren't all that compared to the Atlanta [surname]s.

Say it with capital letters, and most of the time, no one will ever call you on it. You've already satisifed the question, after all, that you're proud of your family. It still holds if you're talking about non-USian family prior to immigration. You might say, "my mother's paternal grandfather was a ZDANCEWICZ from Wolkowysk, Poland, who married the youngest daughter of the ZIELINSKI family," or maybe you're saying, "my father's paternal grandmother was from the TRINH family, up in Thanh Hóa who were third-generation doctors, but my father's paternal grandfather was a HUYNH from Southern Vietnam, and we're not sure how they met but it must've been a story!" Whatever it is, wherever you're from, you say it clearly and distinctly.

The point is: it's your family. If you're not going to be proud of them, who will?

ETA: had to check my own privilege here, because I should've added this from the start: slavery. Like disease and immigration and remarriage and house fires and war, slavery also cuts off branches from the family tree. Like the others, it's also a painful and dark part of family history -- and is understood to be that -- as any other kind of cut on the family tree.

Why the hell does this matter?

Because asking is to honor; because not asking is to offend.

The question's intent is positive. It means someone around the table likes you, and wants to make (or assure) a connection, and the Southern subculture style seems to most commonly do this by establishing family. The person is subconsciously asking: "are our values the same? am I right to value your friendship, as someone who will also value this intangible of family that's so important to me? can we get a greater connection via establishing our family-credentials?"

If it's a parent or older relative asking you, then this is because they can tell one of your peers likes you -- and because it's the right of the eldest at the table, as family spokesperson, to request you start rattling off your family ties. (If a younger person or your peer does it, it's because they're not willing to wait for the eldest to quit his/her personal issues or just distractions, so pre-empts the right and asks.)

While I say "credentials", this doesn't mean pedigree (though some more traditional or stickler Southerners do mean it that way, but they're not as common as you'd think). It's more like "credentials of being a good family-member," in that you can recite family history at the drop of a hat. If you haven't cottoned on yet, I really am talking about a kind of filial piety -- one in which you demonstrate your filial-ness by a) being proud enough of your family to give background freely, and b) that you've been a dutiful child by learning/accepting the extended ties of your family.

It is also possible that the person asking may ask through gritted teeth. It means they know someone at the table is serious about you, and the questioner/eldest isn't willing to snub you outright. (Not the least of which is because, even if we don't always think consciously about these things, I'm not the only one who notices if the question doesn't get asked, because it is such an expected element in the social discourse.) If you get the sense that you're being asked because the person wants to demonstrate you're not "good enough" -- a real risk if you're romantically attached to the first-born in the family -- then feel free to keep going on your family history as far back as you can, and give surnames whenever possible, and say it with PRIDE. Asking you through gritted teeth is a reluctant opening, and a reply with pride is throwing the gauntlet back in that person's face.

Except this is a gauntlet that won't result in bloodshed. Formality rules in this case, and I've never seen this broken in a lifetime of seeing this exchange: when you establish that you know your family and are proud of it, you've rendered the other person unable to criticize. Being on the "wrong side" of the tracks ("not good enough") is often defined or typified as "not knowing your family". If you can do the recitation, and you don't mumble your way through, you've satisfied the requirements. No one can prove you're not good enough -- not by this standard, at least.

[Note: I have no qualms in saying that if you're facing the table-eldest and you get the sense of animosity and you really like the person you're dating... and you don't have any info about a family-branch within the past two generations (parents, grandparents)... LIE LIKE A FREAKING RUG. In my opinion, in a potentially antagonistic situation, it hurts no one. You might want to warn your partner, so they know to nod along, but make up something that seems reasonable. This is really only necessary if you're dealing with majorly stickler Southerners with non-Southerner or racist issues, but that kind of antagonism may also surface if you're dating the first-born. Something about first-born children, don't ask me what. Oddly, second-born and last-born don't get such a strong reaction, but my theory on that is that parents are just so relieved anyone will have anything to do with their latter children that they're not going to pick over the details. Bwah.]

If you are not asked, it's one of two messages. Neither are positive. Either you're not being asked because the person is willing to snub you by having no interest in your family (read: no interest in ever having you become part of the person's extended family or to have any lasting connection at all, really). Or you are assumed right off the bat to have no family at all, or that what you have is of no worth. Translate the latter to be equivalent to taking one look at you and concluding, "your mother got knocked-up by some guy when she was only sixteen and your family's nothing but trash," then you get just how much of an insult it is not to be asked.

If at any point, anyone around the table has mentioned extended family, then it's a sign family ties probably do mean something. (There are other clues, but that's a big one.) If, then, you are not asked in turn about your extended family, that's a clear message. I hope it's obvious by now just how deep this impression cuts, and is meant to cut, if you're aware of this important part of the social formalities.

The problem, of course, is that when I meet someone, one of my first impulses is to ask, "where's your family from?" [ETA: this may be somewhat misleading, and read like it's a first-meeting question. May make more sense, if you're new the question/notion, by rephrasing that sentence as, "when I meet someone and have learned enough about them to know I want to keep the person as a good friend".] I dislike the notion that I can only ask this of third-generation Americans, or people visiting here (for whom the 'where are you really from' is a simpler question). There's too often, for me, a sense that if a new-met friend is recently-acculturated American/immigrant, that this question is off-limits because of the potential misunderstanding.

But it's important, and not just for the affirmation, but also because of the connection.

I've seen this in plenty of other Southerners, though we're not the only ones who do it -- discovering that someone has no family locally can be a fast-track to being adopted. Living somewhere with no family nearby is like, I don't know, lacking something significant. You can't possibly be expected to handle even everyday life, if you don't have family nearby! It's not quite enough to regard you with pity, though perhaps sometimes with a bit of the hairy eyeball, because family is such a pervasive element that not having it is almost... well, like you're borderline outcast. Since we can't have that, you are hereby adopted, and encouraged to join for holidays and treated as an honorary extra child, or new sibling, or visiting cousin.

It's not just words, either; it means support, and visiting, and extending all the rights and privileges of an additional daughter in the family. (For adult quasi-adopted children, this really amounts to a relaxation of formalities, and for the children of those same adopted adult-children, it amounts to an extra grandparent. Heh.) This is why I say that I have two adopted brothers and one adopted sister, and my sister has three of each, and my parents ask after those quasi-siblings. Eventually, I expect those quasi-siblings will be extended parts of our families into the future, such that someday (to her horror, I imagine), [personal profile] kraehe will be Great-Aunt Kraehe to my descendants.

It was in making friends with recently-arrived non-USians that I suddenly realized just how important all this is to me. At first, I was thinking: my friend is not from the US, and isn't the point of the question to know what family you have around here? Why does it matter to me where her family's from, if I've never heard of that family name or couldn't find that town on a map if I had a pickax and night goggles? Plus, in arriving, she's probably already getting the usual suspicion-of-immigrants crap. In asking about family here or back home, would I be subtly reinforcing that she's not "true" USian, as though my question is grounds for arguing that a non-USian family negates one's potential/new citizenship?

The longer I went without asking, the more I felt -- on some indefinable, inexpressible level -- that I was insulting my friends. I wasn't paying them the compliment of letting them know that they -- and by extension, their family -- mattered to me. That not-asking meant I was saying that their family ties didn't matter or didn't count or weren't worth knowing/hearing/treasuring. And even if my friends were ignorant of the conflict inside me, I was getting more and more anxious about it. I felt like as the time passed in our friendship, and I didn't ask, I was signaling that they weren't truly friends of mine... because if they were, then I would've already asked, and established, our common bond in the importance of family to each of us.

It's even more fraught with that tension, when I'm with people who are first- or second-generation American. There's a definite (and understandable) sensitivity to the "where are you really from" ignorance, because they're not newly-arrived, they've been here since childhood or were born here. They get enough of the "you're not from around here, I can tell" crap. I do get that, and it's why I hold back from this question that's as close to second-nature, in social situations, as anything I can imagine. But even as I hold back, I'm aware of holding back, and I'm aware of this ingrained perspective in me, that says not asking is saying: you have no family, and what family you have, doesn't matter.

Worse, I don't know if the person is aware of these Southern courtesies, and the entire topic can end up so tied up in tensions and linked to past racist discussions/comments that it can put a new friendship at real risk, to try and explain. Does the person know that this is a question of importance to someone from my socio-cultural background? Are they offended that I haven't asked, as I would for someone in some other racial/ethnic category? I continue to struggle with how to present/approach the question such that it doesn't trigger the bad reaction, but also satisfies this peculiar socialized need in myself to recognize and honor a friend's extended family ties... and I can't tell when someone is aware of the question, waiting for it -- knows what it means and how to answer it -- and is thus taking my silence as intentional snub.

The problem is that sometimes, I think, this uneasiness on my part comes through, even when interacting with friends whom I'm pretty certain haven't been exposed to this part of Southern courtesies. I've had a few really perceptive friends give me an odd look at times, like they know there's something bothering me. It may be possible that they're thinking I'm uneasy about having a friend who isn't Anglo-saxon descent who's been here forevah, like my hesitation at points is because I really, really want to blurt out something incredibly, I don't know, racist or xenophobic or just plain ignorant. (I won't give examples; I'm sure you can fill in those blanks on your own.)

But what's really going on is that I'm waffling over my life-long training that says, "the next question you ask is whether family is important to this person," and my awareness that the question itself is awfully close to a different question that is very much intended to offend. Most of the time, I end up keeping my trap shut, rather than risk offense in one direction. On the inside, though, I'm feeling as though my silence is holding my friend in contempt.

I can't fix that in one swoop, and even if I ruled the world, I expect there'd still be ignorant fools who'd try to prove someone's not-really-an-American (or whatever culture/country) using the "no, where are you really from" interrogation. But at least I can explain to all of you reading, here, so you understand what's really being asked, if you ever meet a Southerner who tries to connect via this kind of formality.

Hell, even if the person is aiming for a "no, where are you really from", the overall, possibly overwhelming fount of information in the usual Southern-styled response just might shut them up anyway. Sort of like snowing them, in a way. But if they're asking about your family, not you, then it's probably something they learned as a Southerner, or from years of having Southern friends. Take it as a compliment, rattle off your family as far as you can go in any direction, and be proud. Family matters to Southerners; let us know that you feel the same about yours.

To reiterate:

Family is not only about blood. People you've made your family, on your own, are also family. It's all about your ties to other people.

If you are feeling knee-jerky right now and maybe even thinking about biting my head off for even raising this topic, please take a step back. I don't deserve that. I'm just explaining where my socio-cultural background is coming from when it asks this question and similar. You are not obligated to reciprocate, but neither am I obligated to apologize for a cultural value that's an integral part of me.

If you feel the need to lecture me about how it's a horrible, offensive question, just don't. To make it as clear as I possibly can: if a Southerner meant to insult you, you wouldn't even be asked this question in the first place. There is no greater insult than to be completely dismissed out-of-hand as someone with no ties at all.

If you have ever been asked the question, or a variant of it, please remember this: it's a question only asked when fellowship/friendship is being extended. The gesture was, outside the rare and usually obvious exception, most likely meant in good faith and affirmation. Please try to keep that mind. Thanks.


Where's your family from?
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Date: 3 Apr 2011 08:33 pm (UTC)
majoline: picture of Majoline, mother of Bon Mucho in Loco Roco 2 (Default)
From: [personal profile] majoline
THIS! Thank you for explaining this because I didn't realize that I'd managed to grow up with this (and realizing as an adult I actually did have a culture was fun!) by way of the US Navy (the Italian and British schools didn't help either).

So, my SO's family are Mississippi Greers and my family are Virginia Mitchells and Mexican Sifuentes-Perezes.

Three cheers for a brilliant articulation of this subject :)

(no subject)

From: [personal profile] majoline - Date: 4 Apr 2011 01:03 am (UTC) - Expand

Date: 3 Apr 2011 09:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] opheliastorn.livejournal.com

My initial reaction to the idea that anyone would want such a detailed genealogy from me so early in a relationship was that I would think the asker a nosey bugger. Trying to figure out why now.

I'd answer pretty briefly and possibly tersely, depending on the situation, because past my parents' occupations - asking what your folks do is par for the course around here in my experience - that sort of family knowledge is not your business, unless we are already friends. I don't think New Zealand society, at least the bits of it I've muddled through, expects that sort of public pride in extended family. It' just generally expected that unless your family's fucked up - and there's a fair bit of that around - you'll be on good terms with everyone, try to do Christmases or other family things together where it's possible, and so on. Not so much of an emphasis on My Family, just ... my family.

For someone to ask me to list my extended family, their activities and surnames or whatever, would seem like they were going to judge me by my family, not by my pride in my family, I suppose. And that would just be plain odd at the very least.

Actual names redacted, of course

Date: 3 Apr 2011 09:52 pm (UTC)
branchandroot: oak against sky (Default)
From: [personal profile] branchandroot
*kicks back* Well.

My mother's father's family are F--s from Marquette, at least recently, of course they were from Quebec but that was Acadia, you know, I'm still finding distant relatives up and down the eastern seaboard every once in a blue moon. So recently they were from the UP coal mining areas, and I'm the keeper of Great Aunt Helen's pasty recipe (well, she's my Great Great Aunt Helen). My mother's mother's family are D--s and then MacD--s, the MacD--s of the Northern Ireland MacC--s, pretty loud dress plaid, I gotta say. Great Great Grandma MacD-- was the one who came over.

My father's family are E--s, most recently from the Appalachians of course, but they first came over from Germany, I kept in touch with Grandma E-- though not so much with my father since he was gone by the time I was three. My stepfather's family, on the other hand, are G--s from Lake Orion (pronounced Or-ee-on, emphasis on the "or"); Grandpa and Grandma moved a bit south when he retired from GM, but Great Uncle Hugh stayed on up there with the store.

Now, my father was an only, and Uncle Moose passed some time ago, but most of my mother's family have stayed local. Uncle Steve is out in California, and Uncle Tom is in Arizona with most of his boys, but my cousin Justin moved back home and he and his girlfriend have had the first great grandchild of the living generations, a girl as is only proper (for three generations the oldest child has been a girl, actually I think it's four if you count Great Aunt Phyllis, and of course the D-- cousins from her have stayed local too, remind me to tell you about Cousin Libby and the times she fleeced poor, unsuspecting fools who didn't think she could chug a beer as fast as any man) named for Grandma F--. Aunt Julie and Aunt Amy both live in town and Aunt Gay is just a ways north; of course Uncle Joe travels a lot and Aunt Molly has her own people, especially since she brought two boys from a previous marriage, but they do live in town when they're there. Uncle Tim is just over in Chicago, we don't see them as often, but he and his boys do try to come in for reunions. And, of course, Mom has just recently got back in touch with Gail, who might as well be another sister, they're still up north a bit, I'll have to ask and see where her children have gotten to these days, I haven't heard from them since the eldest and I graduated.

Been a while since I reeled the whole thing off. People's eyes kept glazing over in college, when I answered what seemed to me to be a perfectly straightforward (if somewhat involved) question. *wry* Now, if you'd asked about my people, you'd get a different list; that's the clan-by-choice, and that's a single-generation thing at this point. Wide, rather than long.

(no subject)

From: [personal profile] branchandroot - Date: 3 Apr 2011 10:30 pm (UTC) - Expand

Date: 3 Apr 2011 10:35 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] treesahquiche
Perhaps the Midwest is similar in that the "Where's your family from?" question is loaded? It would explain the inexplicable dislike/distrust that my SO's dad has of me and it's preferable to the racism explanation (my SO's family is white, I am not).

In Pennsylvania (or the monolithic North), though, asking anything beyond the immediate family and what your parents do for a living is, as opheliastorn.livejournal.com said, is considered nosiness and impolite, unless that person's known you for a while/is a friend.

Date: 3 Apr 2011 10:42 pm (UTC)
acari: painting | red butterfly on blue background with swirly ornaments (Default)
From: [personal profile] acari
I love your posts about the US-South. I find them very enlightening. In a weird way your writing makes me understand why I always felt uncomfortable and on edge there (my sister lived in Charlotte for a few years and I spent a summer there and down along the coast), I just could not parse cultural clues. Behaviour that was meant as polite and friendly translated to me as fake and intrusive. Your posts make me understand my reactions on a conscious level, if that makes sense.

I tried to answer where my family is from but it just feels really weird and I honestly have no idea how to answer that question other than "my family's from Germany" without having to go into details I don't feel comfortable about.

I don't get the sense of clan you describe here. I don't even know all my first cousins and I'm not hundred percent sure what second cousins even are. I don't think I ever asked someone where their family is from. It just doesn't occur to me.

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Date: 3 Apr 2011 11:05 pm (UTC)
nemonclature: Daria looking unamused (Default)
From: [personal profile] nemonclature
That's fascinating, thanks for sharing. I've only ever come across the 'where are you from really' style question. As far as I know, the family history aspect doesn't exist in my culture (or at least not outside of extreme ends of the class spectrum, maybe). Certainly I've always felt an odd one out simply for having a big family. Most people seem to cut off at the nuclear.

I've gotta say, I would have a lot of issues with introducing most of my family as coming from Pakistan/Egypt, and less issues with introducing my Nana's family as Irish/English. Because the 'where really' question has ingrained such a knee jerk of ESTABLISH ENGLISH CREDENTIALS NOW. MUST BALANCE OUT ALL NON-CAUCASIAN ETHNICITY.

And wow, I've never really analysed it in that way, or realised how uncomfortable that makes me. I'ts actually pretty sad. I should be able to take pride in my heritage and still be utterly secure in my own English-ness.

Date: 3 Apr 2011 11:26 pm (UTC)
chibidrunksanzo: Can you tell me again for exposition's sake? (Default)
From: [personal profile] chibidrunksanzo
This is why I have trouble answering "Where are you from." My mom is from Utah, that I can say pretty definitively. Yeah, now she lives in Virginia and has for 15 years, but she's still from Utah. Dad grew up in Wyoming, but then his parents moved to Utah, and part of his family is from Utah, but there are other parts in other states. And then Dad was in the Air Force, so as for where my siblings and I grew up... *shrug* So yeah, I usually answer "where are you from" with "My dad was in the Air Force." Not a full Southern answer, but I only lived in Louisiana for two years, after all. =P

Date: 4 Apr 2011 12:09 am (UTC)
maat_seshat: Jessica Drew/Spider-woman drinking coffee, New York in the dawn light behind her (Jessica Drew)
From: [personal profile] maat_seshat
Interesting. Must have been fun for you, studying Mandarin, since the "where are you from" question there (at least according to the way my university teaches it) is "where is your family."

I tend to get stiff and defensive and snarly about the question, because my family is close, but it's a very matriarchal family, to the point that I basically lop off the male side of the family tree all the way up to my great-great grandmother. I know who the men themselves were, but I know nothing about their families. (I just began learning anything whatsoever about my father's family a year ago.) And people notice and tend to react as if, I don't know, they accidentally said "Your mother got herself knocked up," and then they get either awkward or judgmental (or both). And, yeah, having gotten that one too many times means that I don't respond too generously to the question any more. Which has probably been a problem at some point, since nearly my entire family except for my mother now live in Tennessee and North Carolina. Hooray cultural differences.

Thank you for the explanation, though. It's interesting, and maybe I'll be a bit more patient the next time someone asks me at dinner.

(For practice: My mother grew up in Connecticut, where her mother and mother's mother also grew up, and that's really the family I think of as "mine". Family legend is that we're descended from the Vermont [surname]s, who were being thorns in British sides way back in the Revolutionary War. My favorite cousins live in Vermont. Everyone's moved away from Connecticut now (except for me; I'm the only one who didn't grow up here, and I'm the only one who's come back.) My mom splits her time between Maine and Florida, and my great-aunt and uncle are in Maine and North Carolina. Most of my cousins are in North Carolina, and my grandparents are now in Tennessee. My father's family is mostly from Chicago. So, I'm really from all over the place.)

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Date: 4 Apr 2011 12:24 am (UTC)
okaasan59: (Default)
From: [personal profile] okaasan59
I think the customs vary from place to place in the South as well. I'm not actually sure if it's because of regional differences or urban/rural differences in custom. For instance, my husband's family from rural Mississippi is more likely to question someone's familial background, especially if they think there may be a chance for a connection, whether an actual relationship or just a recognition of a shared experience. They are also more likely to live near most of their relatives and of course, know all the names and connections.

My family though, is from New Orleans, traditionally (and still today), a city of immigrants. While folks may know their families for two or three generations back, further than that often gets fuzzy due to lack of records and so many names and circumstances being changed in the process. I have great-grandparents who swore they were Swiss, though recent research suggests they were actually German and didn't want to draw attention to that fact during and just after WWI.

Most of the people I know will start the questioning in a subtle manner, perhaps only one or two questions per meeting. The ultimate focus tends to be on personal experience, such as where someone grew up, rather than where their parents or grandparents were from. I wonder if that may have something to do with the fact that one or two generations back, people were more likely to have lived in one place most of their lives so the question would be more relevant.

As for me, I say I am from New Orleans even though I didn't live there until I was 10 years old and haven't lived there in 30 years. My parents were both born and raised there. My mother's family had been there for about 3 generations, my father's parents were Cajun transplants who had gone to the big city for work. My father was in the Air Force so I lived in six different states before my parents moved back to their home city. I've recently been pondering why I still think of New Orleans as home though I've only spent 1/5 of my life there and nearly all my relatives have moved away.

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Date: 4 Apr 2011 12:31 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] joisbishmyoga.livejournal.com
That bit about the Scots family culture suddenly let me understand one of the more marked differences between my mom's side of the family and my dad's. I can rattle off names for five or six generations straight on Dad's side, with random anecdotes, and then skip generations to "out of Connecticut" and "Elizabeth Tilley" paternally (though I mixed the latter up with Elizabeth Taylor all through elementary), and I can go into Grandma's clan lore maternally. On Mom's side, though, I don't even know if my grandmother had siblings, or my great-grandparents' given names, though at least I eventually found out Mom's side came out of Kentucky. It's probably part of why I feel like an outsider to Mom's side of the family.

Date: 4 Apr 2011 01:06 am (UTC)
nagasvoice: lj default (Default)
From: [personal profile] nagasvoice
Thank you very much for your articulate and gentle explanation. I've run into this regional difference in various places where I've visited or lived. It's probably obvious to the folks who asked me that I was raised with some variation of the northern model for response on this question. I think this varies in the western states depending on whether your roots were urban or rural. Turns out on that one I'm urban.
It took me awhile to scramble together some kind of answer for folks who asked this question--so I clearly wasn't dutiful in the sense of having it all read to hand to offer, but I knew some of it. Their sense of strain and effort and frustration was so clear, they were *trying* so hard to communicate with me, that I was willing to meet them eyeball to eyeball and keep trying. But it did end up pointing out to them just how alien I was.
I'm coming out of an entire culture of isolated, atomized peasants who left everything they had, often not by their own choice, and it's like a kick in a scar to get reminded of it. In spite of this, some of them are very proud of their countries of origin, and bring wonderful food to work and explain it to those of us who aren't familiar with it. They may even have the same family kin-tracing exercises in their own culture--some of the African students I got to know in college were very much like this. And this was why I was willing to make an effort to connect when I recognized that same kin-tracing pattern across country.
I know what the African students told me about it: kin-tracing is also a way of tracing responsibility in a culture where there's nobody outside the clan or the lineage to rely on for law enforcement. I would imagine that's also true for many rural areas of this country, not just the South.
So guess where it came from, that classic western-movie tradition of "you just don't ask a man where he's from." That doesn't sound odd to me, but I bet it does to folks from elsewhere.
In the rural model, if you're an isolated loner who keeps moving on, there's a reason; and if you're just an orphan, or a refugee, they don't want to share in your bad luck. The students told me that they believed enough in "blood tells" that they weren't willing to take on unrelated children, and the adoption rates were very poor at that time.
If you're the child of a criminal who was driven away from the place of origin or ran away to hide their crimes, that's also a warning against hanging out with you.
Talking about the great-great GF who had such a bad temper he once killed a horse just by striking it on the head isn't exactly going to make them happy about knowing you, for instance.
while I'm familiar with the model of cheerfully acknowledging the wackos in the family--"oh yeah, park her in a rocking chair where we can keep an eye on her"--I don't think a lot of people out here are secure enough about the rest of their antecedents.

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Date: 4 Apr 2011 01:24 am (UTC)
thejeopardymaze: (Default)
From: [personal profile] thejeopardymaze
It makes me wonder how many traditional cultures are or still like this, and does give me some ideas of how characters in a conculture may or should behave, as family has this tendency to be very important in traditional cultures in general. I have a feeling that's not simply a local phenomena, but I am sure it is expressed differently from culture to culture.

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Date: 4 Apr 2011 01:55 am (UTC)
villeinage: (Default)
From: [personal profile] villeinage
My knee-jerk reaction to the family question, When asked by someone outside my cultural background, is the undertone (implicit or inferred) of, 'We gots family, you gots none.'

For my my culture and generation of second-and-third generation Americans, the family question boils down to "How much of your extended family was murdered?" With a sprinkling of, "Did they get to America before or after the slaughter?"

"Where's your family from?"

My Mom is from Germany, her parents are from Romania and Poland. My grandfather had only one of his 12 siblings survive the War, and he didn't talk much about his family of origin. Four of my grandmother's sisters survived, but her parents didn't.

For understandable reasons, they never wanted to talk much about the generations lost to genocide.We were raised not to ask.

That's as far as I can rattle of my butchered family tree.

It's not dinner table conversation.

I don't need to prove to other folks that I care about family.

The world didn't give a shit about mine, after all.


Date: 4 Apr 2011 04:31 am (UTC)
nagasvoice: lj default (Default)
From: [personal profile] nagasvoice
Knowing people may have this kind of history is why a lot of us in highly-populated areas don't ask. Or why we were raised not to ask, without it ever being articulated clearly. I do know that some of the families we knew when I was a kid in the Los Angeles area came out of Europe right ahead of German and Polish pogroms, and we knew only because they told us about it. There were plenty of younger folks who said, "Oh, well, my dad never said much about it, he never talked about his parent or grandparents."
I do not know if there is a difference in this depending on how direct someone's experience was.
None of this was because we asked. It didn't occur to me to ask. It still doesn't. I barely manage to ask after people's babies when I've known them at work.
I was going to say that it's a question privileged to those who haven't been uprooted for political, religious, or economic reasons, but this is not strictly true.
Plenty of refugee cultures will ask one another where their families came from, where they lived "before the troubles," and determine kinship relations, trying to establish how they might be related. We have a lot of current Russian emigres here in town and I expect to get those kinds of questions from the first-generation immigrants. They do not hesitate to ask anyone these sorts of questions. I do not know if they all share a history of religious persecution that drove them here, or how severe it was; they don't talk about that. And I don't ask.

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Date: 4 Apr 2011 04:04 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] taithe
This is very informative. As an immigrant who's heard the question "where are you from?" by fellow immigrants and Americans alike, I'd probably answer your question on autopilot:

"I was born in South Korea, but my family immigrated to America when I was young and became a naturalized citizen as a teenager. My family live in [different state] right now and I've moved here for school."

I've had mixed reactions from this. Americans generally take it at face value. Some ask for details, but it's usually about me rather than my family. Fellow Asians don't ask about family, but like to talk about immigrant/American identities.

It's even more fraught with that tension, when I'm with people who are first- or second-generation American. There's a definite (and understandable) sensitivity to the "where are you really from" ignorance, because they're not newly-arrived, they've been here since childhood or were born here. They get enough of the "you're not from around here, I can tell" crap.

There's a way around that I think -- asking about their family members directly or how they grew up will often open up an entire conversation. Your reply to the question references places fellow Southerners grew up in/know. I often relate my family not with place names (beyond country/state) but with regional frameworks. I'd say that my parents grew up in rural villages and traveled to America for various reasons. If they want experiences/stories I'd happily dive in. My most of my friends who are first/second generation American don't mind talking about the details about their family. They'll relate to being in a particular village with a nasty auntie, or the hot summers their family endured or how they're with an uncle in this city but their mother is still in X country because of Z.

It's really just when the question transforms into an insincere one that seeks to only place an "other" label on an individual that it gets very tiring. I find that most people don't give a damn where my family is from or how they got here. I usually try to answer in a way that allows people who are interested about my family to ask questions. Most of my friends answer typically, so I think changing the nature of your question from something very commonplace to something a bit more specific will communicate better.

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Date: 4 Apr 2011 04:39 am (UTC)
soukup: Kodama from Mononoke-hime (Default)
From: [personal profile] soukup
Thank you for explaining this custom, because I have never known until now what on earth it was that people wanted me to say to that question. I have no family in the usual sense (well, it's complicated but that's mostly what it amounts to) and a lot of very close friends, so for me blood is so entirely irrelevant that this always feels like being asked my shoe size or my high school GPA or something. I've always answered it as quickly as possible because I didn't want to bore people with the details, and then been even more puzzled when there was that awkward pause afterward, as though I'd made a false step somehow.

Hmm. By which I guess I kind of mean that family (in a biological sense, at least) doesn't really matter to me that much! Oops. *bites lip* Can we still be friends?

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Date: 4 Apr 2011 07:56 am (UTC)
kit_r_writing: Two boys wearing Santa hats, smiling for the camera. (neffies)
From: [personal profile] kit_r_writing
Even though I could give a fairly good account of my ancestors if called on, my early training would be that it would be bragging.

(As a data-point, I got this training/socialization from my grandmother, who grew up in a "well-off" [her description] family in New York.)

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Date: 4 Apr 2011 11:49 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] axelrod
Interesting, as always. Also, I think one of my friends did that adoption thing, and I can see how someone I knew in high school is prone to it.

I have things I can rattle off, sure. The thing is, to put it simply I hate my parents and I have no relationship worth talking about with my brothers and I have deep, deep resentments against my paternal grandmother and haven't seen my maternal grandparents in years which I'm totally fine with. And yeah, I can skate past all that and dive into the stuff about my grandfather who grew avocados around Anaheim and some of what used to be his land is now part of Disneyland and the Israeli relatives and all that.

But in my personal value system, I measure relationships by trust, and I show I trust someone not by telling them about my family but about my mental illness and how talking to my parents is bad for my health and how fucking angry my grandmother's bigotry makes me. I imagine even a Southerner who I can indeed trust with that information about me would be taken aback if I shared it too soon or in the wrong way or without going through the formalities first or whatever. And then, I just have Issues about family, it's kind of a sore point generally. And I would so much rather say I'm from Philadelphia than from Connecticut.

Basically, the tradition you describe above would make me actively uncomfortable, even on a good day. It doesn't help that I'm uncomfortable with lying, including the thing you do in social situations where the truth is too personal and you have every right to just not share a whole and true answer.

And it's not that family doesn't matter to me, it's that I don't trust it and anyone who knows much about my family would understand that completely. Like, my father's first cousin and her non-biological sister* has turned out to be incredibly helpful in certain ways ... and I'm currently having all kinds of angry!depression about opening up to her and asking for help. Huge fucking can of worms. Not something I'd want to bring up with someone new. The thing I'd have to do is get all historical as fast as possible.

*Non-biological family/extralegal adoption is something my dad's side of the family does, despite being Ashkenazic Jews - the only members of the family who live beneath the Mason-Dixon line are all in Florida, and I don't mean the Panhandle.

Date: 4 Apr 2011 12:13 pm (UTC)
geraineon: (Default)
From: [personal profile] geraineon
Thanks for look at the flipside of the question. I've always been hearing reactions to the question "Where are you from?" so hearing it from a different perspective was insightful.

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Date: 5 Apr 2011 01:04 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] gakifang.livejournal.com
Dude, THIS. This explains so much and so perfectly, I want to print it out and show it to all of my friends. Except they already know it.

One notes I made while reading is that, if you are a waitress at a restaurant that serves a lot of Northerners and you have an odd accent, you will confuse the shit out of your customers when they ask where you're from and you come back with 'Well, my dad's second generation military, but his dad retired in Pennsylvania, and that side of the family split due to the war so half the family's back in Stuttgart and Mom's out of the Olsens in Minot blah blah blah.' Until the poor bugger finally interrupts to explain that you talk funny and where are you from that you sound like that.

This is brilliant.

Date: 5 Apr 2011 01:23 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] gakifang.livejournal.com
And, actually, reading a lot of the comments, military people, both active duty and dependents, do a version of this as well, but you list where you've been stationed. It works well as an add on to 'Military family, so we're from all over', so it's not a one note shut-down.

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Date: 5 Apr 2011 03:36 am (UTC)
branewurms: (Default)
From: [personal profile] branewurms
Haha, I am a southerner and all this seems a little alien to me. Of course, I'm not from the deep south (I'm in NC) so maybe it's different further down. Or maybe my family's just weird. (Actually, while I'm not cut off from my family, I'm none to close to any of them except my parents, and I don't know shit about my ancestors. Lol, we... actually do kinda suck at the whole "southern" thing.)

Also, I am not the best at social interactions and I boggle at the idea of anyone being able to interpret a question like that. You ask me a question, I'm going to answer exactly what you asked. (With the exception of "How are you," which even I know only means "Hi, this is a generic greeting.")

Date: 5 Apr 2011 01:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] l-clausewitz.livejournal.com
Funny. Down here, I tend to follow the conventions from the culturally-dominant Javanese half of my heritage, and would easily boast about my family (even if nobody asked about it) to another Javanese but would feel weird discussing it with a non-Javanese except if we're already close. It's almost as if there's the unspoken assumption that other ethnicities--even similarly clannish ones like the Batak from Sumatra--just won't understand the exact place of the family in the respectable Javanese man's/woman's personal identity.

(Ironically, I've always known that I'm closely descended from a Javanese aristocratic line, but it wasn't until a couple of months ago that I realized that the ducal court I've been researching for an alternate-history steampunk story is the same one I was descended from. Cue the embarrassment over not having made more detailed inquiries earlier right up my own branch of the family....)

Date: 5 Apr 2011 03:46 pm (UTC)
billie: (Mitchell - huh.)
From: [personal profile] billie
I had a long reply all typed out, then firefox decided it needed to MAX OUT my 2GB+ of RAM and made the Mac freezecrash. I'm not in a happy place right now.

Anyway -- thanks for typing this out! Same as [personal profile] acari, I find these posts incredibly informative and enlightening, especially as I have similar reactions of "why do you need to know?" if someone asks me -- hell, I'm still getting used to the "姑娘,你是什么国家的?" being followed up with "多大了?结婚了吗?你的父母亲在哪里工作?赚得好吧?一个月得到多少钱啊?" routine every time I talk to a non-student around here, especially the finance question, because no matter how often I get drilled on the fact that they're just making polite conversation, I find myself unable to answer -- if I'm honest, they'll be shamed because Euro salaries still beat the salary of anyone who'd talk to me on the street, and if I DON'T tell the truth, they'll know anyway, because from a street vendor's point of view, any laowai who's here must be rich. Or something. I need to think about that more.

For me, family is similar (though I think my family history, or what my collective family's brain knows of it, would probably satisfy any Southerner's curiosity) -- there are some things that people you've only just met got no business sticking their noses in. BUT! Now that I know, I'll probably end up posting it anyway -- a good way of figuring out what's okay to tell without being too little or too much, I figure.

Not now, though. Bed time. :) I'm looking forward to reading more about this tomorrow, so I hope comment speed stays up. ;)

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From: [personal profile] nagasvoice - Date: 6 Apr 2011 01:16 am (UTC) - Expand

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Date: 6 Apr 2011 03:27 am (UTC)
dragonhand: (Default)
From: [personal profile] dragonhand
I'm so glad to know how to answer this question properly! What a great explanation... but now I'm trying to remember if you ever asked me this question when I was at your house.

My father's side of the family is from Devonshire, England - though S. S-- got to America by getting shipwrecked off Long Island in the early 1600's. The S-- stayed in New York for years, founding a small city (The Silver City) and becoming Quakers for a time. They didn't agree with no marriage policy, though, and moved along a little further west. Dad grew up in Illinois.

Mom's side of the family is from Wales, my grandparents both grew up in Florida, which is why they ended up there after all the moving around they did in the military. Most of my Aunts and Uncles are in California, but a few are in Oregon, Arizona and Georgia.

I have an older brother and a younger sister, both with growing families, in Utah, another brother and his family near Chicago, and my last brother is in Virginia with my parents and me. We were all born in Utah - my parents met there in college - but we moved out to Virginia, where I really consider myself to have grown up.

And I have so many friends, in so many states, that it's hard to name them all like they deserve. They take such good care of me, they're like having home away from home. ^_^

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From: [personal profile] dragonhand - Date: 7 Apr 2011 12:43 am (UTC) - Expand

Date: 6 Apr 2011 07:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kraehe.livejournal.com
I'm flattered; thank you.

I haven't read through the comments yet (101!) but have pretty mixed feelings about family ties at the moment because I'm not particularly in love with my biological family at the moment, and because we spent most of my childhood years being alienated from them.

You can blame my parents' judgmental Bible-thumperism for the latter; my parents refused to send a wedding present to my cousin Lee when he married a divorced woman, because that was against the Gospels or something (this was absolutely a violation of Southern rules of hospitality, speaking of rules) so after the age of five or so we really didn't/don't talk to my Mom's half of the family.

And my Dad's side has lately succumbed to Tea-partyism such that you can't have a normal apolitical conversation with any of them. So as far as bio-family goes, I'm giving up on meaningful relationships with most of them.

Lastly, my Mom (from Alabama) absolutely has used her lineage as something to throw in other people's faces -- maybe because it might have been the only thing giving her a shred of dignity when we were wearing clothes from the Base thrift store. So I have a bit of an allergy to her trotting that out, unfortunately. (That hasn't stopped the "family genealogist" mantle from descending onto my shoulders.) And there never was a sense that family was "watching our back" in any meaningful way (see above), so Mom's trotting out the list of ancestors was sheerly status-related. It IS a game of one-upsmanship for her -- she got her nose out of joint when Mr. Krahe was able to pull out ancestors even more illustrious than hers.

Re "where are you from" and Yankees, though -- Mr. Kraehe absolutely considers himself to be from Maine, even though he more or less grew up in the Boston area. It's true that this affirmation isn't followed with a recitation of where the R---s, W---s, and other assorted ancestors lived; it pretty much stops with him. He knows the other stuff, it just isn't something considered important enough to discuss with relatively new acquaintances.

I agree, in Northern / midwestern society, asking this is considered nosiness. You might find out eventually in the course of getting to know someone, but it isn't something that is deliberately brought up right away.

Date: 8 Apr 2011 09:24 am (UTC)
cyphomandra: fractured brooding landscape (McCahon)
From: [personal profile] cyphomandra
I've been thinking about this (very slowly!). I come from the same culture as [profile] opheliastorn above, and yeah, I'd see the question as invasive, and also as a challenge - the city I'm currently living in is traditionally notorious for judging people according to a) school attended and b) whether ancestors arrived on one of the First Four Ships (for white settlers; this is not a particularly good city for acknowledging Maori).

However, on thinking about it more, I think what's bothering me more is the fact that your question is about a place, but your answer is about people - and, in my culture, the place is more important. Maori traditionally introduce themselves by identifying their river and mountain before their name, and place, land and ownership are deeply tangled issues in both NZ history and present-day; attachment to the land is one of the few national characteristics we all - Maori, Pakeha, Pasifika, Asian, among others - pretty much agree on. I would tell someone asking your question that my mother's family was from the West Coast, and that would mean something (a lot of somethings, actually) to the person asking. Where I chose to say I'm from - and this has switched - says something about me. Answering your question is, to me, about place, and how it interacts with identity; and, possibly wrongly, I'm not getting that in your answers.
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