When we meet new people we often ask straight away: where are you from? For many people this is an easy to answer question, but that’s not always the case.
I’ve just come back from the Australian Esperanto Conference in Melbourne and among many interesting talks one stood out for me in particular. In “Where are you from?” Indrani Beharry-Lall, a well-traveled Esperanto speaker who currently lives in Adelaide, spoke about her personal experience of people trying to put her in a box.
Indrani looks Indian, but she has never been to India, doesn’t speak any Indian language. In fact, she doesn’t really know much about India. She was born on the island of Aruba, a Dutch island off the coast of Venezuela. She spent her whole childhood there, with Dutch as her native language. Later she studied in the Netherlands and England, then lived in Guyana and Canada before finally moving to Australia.
However, this is too much complexity for most people. People like to be able to put new people they meet into a box: he is American, she is French, etc. When people see Indrani, they think it is easy to put her in a box: she looks Indian and so they expect her to be Indian. They can’t understand why a person who looks Indian is not Indian.
When someone asks Indrani where she comes from she says that she is from Aruba. People then look at her in a strange way “Aruba, what’s that?” She tries to explain where Aruba is, but most people lose interest, they have never heard about Aruba and don’t really want to know about it. People she meets are often frustrated because even after a number of questions they still can’t really put her in a box.
However, for Indrani it’s easy: she is a world citizen, who speaks several languages, including Esperanto. Indrani finished her illuminating talk with the advice to treat people as individuals and not to try to put them into a box.