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28 January 2023

The burden of explaining where you are from

by Anastasia Gavalas

The burden of explaining where you are from can be exhausting, especially if there is a complicated story behind it.

“Where are you from?” 

I have a very complicated relationship with this question. Ultimately, my feelings on the phrase depend on the given context. I appreciate that the power dynamics of this line of questioning can be skewed.  If the conversation is between a non-migratised White person and a Person of Colour, the power dynamics can be incredibly problematic and one-sided. 

Sometimes when I have been asked this question, it has been asked in the format of “are you from Iran?” or “are you North African?” In some ways, I find this experience validating as an individual from the SWANA region, especially since I have often questioned whether I truly belong in this region because of a whitewashing of my history. However, this is a very unique sense of affirmation that only people from the Cypriot community may experience, especially after doubting the identities we have been fed our entire lives. 

The burden

However, this question is also a double-edged sword for me. Even before I had questioned what I had been told about my identity, this questions would still create a jarring or uncomfortable aftereffect: “Where are you from?” “I’m Greek”. “Where in Greece are you from?” “Well I’m actually from Cyprus”. Now that I identify as Cypriot, this question becomes even more uncomfortable: “Where are you from?” “I’m from Cyprus. I am Cypriot”. “The Greek or Turkish side?” When I am asked this, I usually just respond with “the South”, simply because I do not have energy to explain that Cyprus is Cypriot, and that Greek and Turkish are identity labels imposed onto us by British colonisers. In that moment, I also don’t know if people want a history lesson. Do they want a simple answer, or the truth? I wish in these moments I could share the truth, but sometimes the burden is just too exhausting or uncomfortable, especially if the truth is provocative and shatters every single preconceived notion that the other person may hold about my community. Notions that are a result of colonial lies.


Daniele Nunziata, Colonial and Postcolonial Cyprus: Transportal Literatures of Empire, Nationalism, and Sectarianism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020) p7: reference to identity labels being a colonial imposition.

Anthony Anaxagorou, “There’s so much more to say regarding British divide and…” (Twitter, 26 August 2018): reference to identity labels being a colonial imposition. Accessed at https://twitter.com/Anthony1983/status/1033674431846072320

Andrekos Varnava, British Imperialism in Cyprus, 1878-1915: the Inconsequential Possession (Manchester University Press, 2009) p153: reference to identity labels being a colonial imposition.

This blog post is part of our Words Matter x NSW series.