Where Are You From?

By Sweta Patel, Consulting Controller

This is a question my husband and I get asked regularly, usually following a few minutes of conversation with us. You may think that it is a simple question for us to answer, but it is not.

Are they curious about my accent, or my skin tone, or the origins of my name, or my citizenship? Or do they just want to know where I live? My now standard answer – My parents are from India, I was born and brought up in Zambia, I have spent most of my life in the UK and am a British citizen, and I now live in Dallas, Texas.

Am I Indian? I have Indian heritage and I speak Gujrati, but I have never lived in India and I do not fully associate myself with Indian culture. Am I Zambian or African? I can claim Zambian nationality as I was born there, but I’m not native to the continent and would not conventionally be considered to be African. Am I British? I have a British passport but I’m not English or Anglo/Saxon.
People feel the need to categorize other people, to identify if they are friend or foe, part of their tribe or not. This need is an evolved response to fear of what they do not know or understand. Categorizing people has also evolved out of the desire for one category of people to exert power and control over another.

Everywhere I have lived, I have been part of a less powerful group, and have suffered discrimination as a result. But neither my race, ethnicity nor nationality truly define who I am. So, do any of these descriptors have relevance in a world where people are globally mobile and intermingled?

I probably have more in common with a white American male from New York City than that man has in common with a white American male from rural Alabama. But I am regarded as an outsider and a “minority”. I have fewer rights and opportunities. My voice is less heard.
Perhaps when we stop using race, ethnicity, nationality and even gender as primary descriptors of people, that is when we can start working towards equity for all people.

My name is Sweta. I am a Chartered Accountant and Consultant. I live in Dallas, Texas.

By the way, my husband is from the former Soviet republic of Belarus, of Jewish heritage, and grew up in the San Francisco bay area after moving there in his early teens to escape persecution due to his heritage. He has also lived and worked in Detroit, Hartford, Wroclaw (Poland), and Charlotte.

Which always leads to the inevitable next question – how did we meet? Well, we met in a bar…on a ship…on the way to Antarctica. Of course!