“Where are you from?”
While this question may seem like a conventional element of casual conversations, it addresses a method of discovery. But what discovery could people possibly be interested in? People you meet know where you are. They don’t know where you came from, but satisfying the state of not knowing couldn’t possibly be the ultimate interest of the original question.
In the case of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the director of the video “Innocence of Muslims,” police wanted to know where Nakoula lived in order to arrest him. Although the site of his arrest — Cerritos, Calif. — is not where he is originally from, it is his permanent residence. Even if Nakoula were to move away from Cerritos, Cerritos is still considered the place he is immediately from. Though his residence seems like trivial information, his violation of probation suddenly made his place of residence vital information. With life, money and a tide of religious emotions at stake, knowledge of where to find Nakoula is clearly not just valuable for curiosity. Knowledge of location grants anyone the power to find Nakoula. The mere knowledge of a location opens a vent through which possible actions and reactions erupt beneath that location.
Nakoula’s arrest in Cerritos offers a moment where his digital presence and sites of global protest of his video affected his physical presence in Cerritos. With the inevitable inseparability of digital and physical spaces, we are at a point where naming the site where you physically live is not just stating where your home or shelter is. The answer to “where are you from?” leads to a location where anybody can trace both online or in-person actions to the identity of a person. In turn, this tracing method reveals the heavy responsibilities that hold people accountable in the physical realm, whether or not their actions were performed in virtual space. The fact that every person’s official documentation records the answers to “where do you live?” and “where are you from?” demonstrates that a record of one’s location, as well as name, prevents the very anonymity that would hold people unaccountable.
By failing to answer the questions “where are you from” and “what is your name” appropriately, we enter a realm of illegal actions. This is the type of action that led to Nakoula’s arrest. According to the Los Angeles Times, Nakoula was arrested for using aliases in the production of his video, using credit under false names and inaccurately portraying his role in the film to authorities. Aside from the debate of whether Nakoula’s arrest is a way of appeasing those offended by his film, his arrest shows that it is the state of law that causes concern for who you present yourself to be and in which location. In this sense, identities are labeled like points on a Cartesian graph — where X and Y can be interchangeably noted as a name and as an address.
So the next time people ask, “Where are you from?,” they are really seeking to complete their information on your point of reference. It is who you are that leads people to care about where you are from.
Contact Jacqueline Alas at [email protected]