Jennifer: This Matters Because (Series)

Where are you from?

I want to answer the question I’ve been asked all my life: Where am I from? 

“Where are you from?” 

“Where are you from?”

“Where are you from?”

I’ve wondered for a very long time how to answer this question and have it make sense.  I’ve wondered how to answer it in the middle of a crosswalk, in line at the CVS, in the doorways of office buildings. How to answer the classmates and passersby, cab drivers and store clerks.   How can I say it and have it be something whole and true to both the asker and myself? 

 Jennifer’s parents. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Knight.

Jennifer’s parents. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Knight.

There is never time to tell the story of how I came to be here, how this is the only homeland I’ve ever known, how my mother crossed an ocean for the man who would be my father, how my father wrote her a hundred love letters from an aircraft carrier in the south china sea.  How my grandmother gave birth to six babies in a bedroom off a haunted courtyard in a tiny village in the sweltering heart of China, how those ghosts still haunt me, so many years later, in another place, on another continent.  How because I never really knew my father’s family, I don’t have any other American family but my mother’s, and they are all Chinese through-and-though, having all emigrated here after the Cultural Revolution. 

When I am asked this (in doorways, at bakery counters, in the middle of the crosswalk), what does it really mean? What does it say about the asker and the asked? For me it’s always been less of a question and more of a statement. 

“Where are you from?” really says: “You are not like us/You must be from somewhere else, you don’t really belong here/You need to be ‘defined’ so that others can feel safe/There must be a logical explanation for the way your face, eyes, and hair look/We don’t like what is unknown/We don’t like ambiguity/There’s something about you that makes people uncomfortable/We want to be affirmed in our assumptions/There is a dividing line between belonging and oblivion and you are standing on it.”

 Jennifer’s family. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Knight.

Jennifer’s family. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Knight.

This matters because I know that I am “from here” and still my earliest memories smell like ginger and camphor and star anise and ink stone and sandalwood. 

This matters because I know that I am “from here” and still it took me a very long time to not feel shame or doubt about the people I loved most in the world. Because it took a very long time to be true to what I love, because I was afraid that I would never be “from here.”

This matters because this is my answer. 

It seems my whole life has lead me here to the artistic haven of Baltimore Asian Pasifika Arts Collective.  It gives me a chance to be among a group of people who want to lay claim to our own identities, our perspectives, and our stories.  BAPAC is the homeland in which I might interpret my own life, where I can give the stories I tell their own framework and foundation, when so often I’ve seen my self and my culture interpreted by someone else, or not at all. Here I can say, “This is me, and I’m ‘from’ right here, and this is what it means.” 


 Photo courtesy of Jennifer Knight.

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Knight.


Written by Jennifer Knight, Artist and Original Member of Baltimore Asian Pasifika Arts Collective.



This Matters To Me Because…

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