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'Here' Is The 'Where' That Really Counts

By Mark Pino

November 23, 2003
Copyright ©2003
THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved.

'Here' is the 'where' that really counts

"Where you from?"

It's a very important question.

A lot depends on who is asking -- and how they're asking.

Geography is one of those things that comes up in casual conversation. We care about geography, along with race and ethnicity, gender, economic status (class) and age. They all tie together to form a picture of who we are and how we think.

People ask reflexively because it's a way to figure out if they've got something in common with you. But it can also be a more sinister question -- like are you one of them or one of us?

So, I typically answer "Tampa" when someone asks where I'm from. After all, that's the place where I was born and where I grew up. The reply is as disingenuous as the question.

What the person usually wants to know is how my family got here -- and from where.

A Latino is trying to place me. Puerto Rican, Cuban or something else? They're trying to figure me out -- and chances are, I'm simultaneously trying to do the same.

Among Latinos it's a natural question -- sort of like asking if you're from Tennessee or Kentucky, Georgia or Alabama, Washington or Oregon, New York or Connecticut.

Part of me rejoices in being accepted. But I also don't want to fit into a box built with someone else's perceptions or prejudices.

I found it humorous recently when someone said, "But aren't you half Puerto Rican?" Never made such a claim, but people tend to jump to their own conclusions -- perhaps because I write about Hispanic issues and many folks in Osceola are from that friendly island. Now, I've visited Puerto Rico for business and pleasure, but my only ties to the place are that my grandfather's second wife is from there. So, some of my (half) aunts and an uncle are half Puerto Rican. But not me.

I could fill a book with what I don't know about my family history. We came here through Cuba. I also know that some relatives came to Cuba from the Canary Islands.

Although one of my grandmothers was born in Florida, some of her older brothers and sisters were born in Cuba. Key West and Tampa were family destinations 80 to 100 years ago. There are relatives in Cuba I don't know. I may never meet them. There are relatives here I've never met. And I'm sure I've got relations in places I never dreamed of.

In addition to Pino, the names Gomez, Garcia, Capaz, Hernandez, Nunez, Perez and Martinez can be found in my family tree. But it doesn't mean much -- some of those are as common as names like Smith and Brown and Green here.

I'm proud of my roots. But I still get suspicious when an Anglo asks where I'm from. Years of strange looks have conditioned me to automatically assume they're making me one of "those people" -- an "us" to their "them."

Do I have an accent or a complexion that triggers that?

Latinos are hard to classify. We are not all alike. Yet in many ways we are similar. I prefer to think about the things we have in common with each other -- and the entire community.

Jobs and education are top priorities in my book. Who's going to disagree?

Where you're from is not so important as the place you call home. Don't know about the rest of you, but for me that's here -- and that matters most.

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