“In life we all have an unspeakable secret"

Ande Bliss

Ande Bliss
November 04
Essays, poetry, opinion and short stories. Free lance on line and in print. Favorite quote: "In life we all have an unspeakable secret, and irreversible regret, an unreachable dream, and an unforgettable love.” ― Diego Marchi Personal Website:


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MARCH 15, 2012 11:23AM


Rate: 17 Flag


"Where we are from matters, but who we become matters more. There is common ground and accommodation if we seek to find it. We will never agree on everything, but we can agree on some things: Peace and Love."

I treat myself to a pedicure every once in a while. It is a time for me to unwind and catch up with the saga of the Kardashians and the latest red carpet winners featured in People magazine. I have no idea who most of them are, but I get to peek inside their world while I am being pampered. My pedicurist is a tiny Vietnamese girl with a name change. Once Linh (gentle spirit), she is now called Lynne.

Lynne is used to pleasing and so she smiles constantly. She has trouble speaking in English, but that doesn’t stop her need to chatter. I prefer to sit quietly and read but Lynne who is very much in charge of this procedure prefers to talk.

“Water OK? Not too hot? You want magazine?”

“I’m fine,” I answer. “Thank you for asking.” The routine never changes. I often wonder how very bored these young girls must be and whether they find sitting below their clients subservient and demeaning. Cleaning feet and painting toenails is nasty business. On the other hand the ‘girls’ usually talk amongst themselves. Then I speculate whether the conversation is revolving around feet or if they are totally detached from the experience and are discussing the day-to-day goings on in their own lives.

This day was different, Lynne looked up at me and asked; “Where you from? I thought it was a bit curious, but I answered; “I live here in Florida in the winter and in New Hampshire the rest of the year. Do you know where that is?”

“Not there,” she continued. “ I know New Hampshire. But where you FROM?”

I was puzzled and then it occurred to me. She was asking about my ancestry.

For some reason, I am often mistaken for a number of ethnicities, but most often as Italian or Hispanic. I am neither. And so, rather than get into the great grandparents emigrated from Poland and Russia story, I asked her if she thought that I might be Hispanic. Lynne lit up; her smile went from ear to ear. “  Yes, I thought so!” she exclaimed.” I knew it! She was so pleased, that I decided to leave it alone.

 “Where are YOU from?” I asked her. Her answer was simple…”Saigon”. “And your family?” I asked.  “Oh, they all live here now, she answered.” I asked her about the availability of local Asian markets and from that we moved on to Vietnamese recipes. I learned that her cuisine relied on fresh vegetables, subtle seasonings, fish, noodles and rice. All were easily found in Florida. Now we had a link. I enjoy talking about food and Lynne was happy to share her favorite recipes.

Where we are from matters. We are curious about each other. I guess it goes back to our origins. When we are out of our comfort zone, we tend to seek connections. We greet people with familiar names on T-shirts, emblems on caps, and license plates. Strangers who we might not choose as neighbors become temporary friends. Like an affair of short duration, these new friends move on as quickly as they arrived.

On one occasion my husband was wearing a T-shirt, which sported a map of New Hampshire. We were on a ferry going from Culebra PR to the main land, when another traveler noticed the shirt and came over to start a connective conversation. In short order, we found out that we were practically neighbors. A few weeks later our new friends went on a trip to Hawaii for a month and asked us if we would be interested in taking care of their island home. It meant extending our stay…but it was an opportunity of a lifetime. In this case, the T-shirt was our introduction to a long friendship.

None of us chooses the circumstances of our birth. Malcolm Gladwell’s THE OUTLIERS is a compelling book about the way opportunity; values, heritage and chance mold our lives. He demonstrates how much of our behavior is in part due to where our ancestors settled when they immigrated to America. If your relatives were farmers they would seek areas similar to the lands they left in order to ‘do’ what they knew best. If clans were the way of life they knew, clannish behavior would follow. "Die like a man, like your brother did."  (

Where we are from matters to the government. Every ten years there is an official census taken in the US. The word "census" originated in ancient Rome from the Latin word censere ("to estimate"). The census played a crucial role in the administration of the Roman Empire, as it was used to determine taxes. (Wikepedia)  Today it is primarily a vehicle to count the population while keeping track of both race and national origin. It seems that no matter how long our ancestors have lived here, we are still hyphenated-Americans.

My nephew was born in Korea. He has been a US citizen since he was three. He is a college graduate, speaks without any noticeable accent and works as manager for a very large firm in DC.  I was with him one day when an older lady approached us, and asked him, “Where are you from?”

 He smiled politely and replied, “Virginia.”

“No, she said.” Not there, where are you FROM?”  



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My home is New England. I also live in Florida. I was born in Cambridge, MA. People like to know stuff like that. I guess it is because I pronounce pizza as peetzer and beer as beeya. Anyway, it is often the first question people ask each other when they meet... "where are you from?"....
I may have been born in Long beach, California. My family may have come from Wales and Ireland, but make no mistake about it, I'm from Hamth.
I have had similar encounters. The fellow who worked for the phone/TV/cable company had a life story worth a novel. And the gal that cut my hair could have had a soap opera made of hers. Both had accents that led me to ask how they came to live in the U.S.
Heritage is important and it has, of course, bearing on place and yet much more than plece, as well.
This is resonant for me.
Thank you.
Are you near South Florida? If so, pm me and perhaps we can meet. I very much appreciate your take on things and your talent for expressing some of the feelings we have within.
I try not to ask people, especially at the nail salon, where they are from because I think to myself, how often have they been asked this question and how annoying it might be to them. I agree that our heritage is important, though.
I've moved so many times in my life, I always struggle with the "where are you from?" question--sometimes I rattle off the list; other times I simply state where I live currently...never sure which angle to take....
Heritage is indeed quite important.
Ande, I just loved this post. You have taken on one of my favorite subjects so nicely. I'm surprised that those folks didn't ask the sketchier question, "What ARE you?" Anytime someone asks me that, I feel like a bug, something less than human. I have one quibble, though. The designator "Hispanic" really doesn't tell anyone where you are "from." It is a catch-all phrase that might apply to blond, blue-eyed Argentine, a black Latino from the Caribbean, or a "mestizo" (Spanish/Indian) from the U.S. Southwest or Mexico. "Hispanics" and "Latinos" can look like anything, and be from anywhere in the Spanish-speaking world. Rated!

"Heritage is important..." if that is so then I guess we will hear no more about southern pride and rednecks from the people here? Thanks for pointing that out. I'll remember it the next time a conversation starts about the CSA.
I was raised hearing stories of 'my people' and of my history so often, I related more the the medieval kingdom of Bohemia more than I did the location we lived in...or where my ancestors in America all lived, upstate New York, instead of where I grew up.
I have to stop myself from asking this question when I go out and about, so many others just look quizzically and say the town they live in now, even if they clearly have ancestry across the world.
...funny, our self-identifiers...
Great post, Ande.
DH Austin..who's name is next to a blue mt range. I am dumb..where is Hamth?
Beauty..I think we all do it.
Jon...Heritage is so much of who we are...and yet, there is a big difference between those who say kugel and those who say least that is what I am told.
Lea, I will send you a message. Thanks for connecting.
Erika, most pedicurists on the East Coast are from Vietnam. I also try not to ask, but when asked I do respond.
Pensive Person...I think where you currently live is sufficient however, I like the sound of Cleveland.
Mary, while heritage is our can sometimes be an anchor.

Thank you all for your comments.
Deborah I love many of the Spanish based describe so meaningfully. My home in FL is like old PR. I love Mexican food and design. I like to cook the creole style I learned on Culebra. My first awakening to the differences amongst "Hispanic" people was in 1960 when I met some Puerto Rican women who were blond and blue eyed. I was fortunate to travel to Mexico serveral times and to Venezuela, where my guide had Polish ancestors. My husband has some Cuban ancestry (grand parents) and we hope to be able to travel there one day.
There are ways of having the "where did you come from" dialogue without being intrusive, especially if you truly engage with people you encounter. I wait for a hint from them or share my own heritage and they often offer theirs. When I mentioned I was a writer to the cable guy, he was the one who brought up the fact that his life would make a novel which led to his story on how he got to this country.
Catnlion...Thanks for peeking and commenting. Our Southern states have had an enormous influence on what the rest of the world recognizes as pure American. Country music being number one. Where we were born is not of our choosing. It is an accident.
Who we become is our true personal definition.
Just Thinking..." It's not easy being Me".......I think that is a line from the song: Superman. Poor guy....imagine when people asked him where he was from...:)
Hamth isn't a real place. It is a world of make believe that I first imagined at the age of twelve. My published novels are set on the world of Hamth - it is where the person who resides inside of my head, calls home.
Gracious Jane....heeya we ahhh. Never to fah on OS. Thanks for the comment.
DH...went to visit Hamth. Need to get back there.
"There is a natural aristocracy among men [and women]. The grounds of this are virtue and talents." Thomas Jefferson.

You can see that even in siblings; one has class and the other does not. There is a beautiful underlying praise for tolerance and being humane in this piece. Excellent post, Ande. R
Thoth...good friend. Thank you.
Many good insights here, I am now from many places so I decided to always say I'm from home. When asked I never say my country of birth or the place I live now, I say San Francisco because in my heart where I grew up will always be home. Love how you made friends because of a t-shirt, very cool.
OMG, I am of Lithuanian, Scottish, Romanian and English. I think my DNA has given me much but so many have tried to take it away. Thats what you get for being given a strange name sometime.
.........(¯`v´¯) (¯`v´¯)
............... *•.¸.•* ♥⋆★•❥ Thanx & Smiles (ツ) & ♥ L☼√Ξ ☼ ♥
⋆───★•❥ ☼ .¸¸.•*`*•.♥
Born in Canada but heritage is in Sicily. My first husband said he always slept with one eye open. Funny man! /r
I've lived all over (army brat), and I still have the southern accent.
Sooo, Scanner:a southern accent? That's a killer. I'm a fool for the drawl.
L'Heure Blue: It was fortunate. We loved staying in their casita.
Algis: You are a pudding...lots of good stuff in there.
Christine: Went to a fabulous Italian Restaurant on a lake in Montreal..(bike path?) a couple of years ago. Excellent. I lived in the North End of Boston for a summer. It was like being in Sicily. Great jug wine and wonderful "gravy".
Interesting post. I think where we're from tells a lot, even when we end up somewhere else. When I lived in St. Louis, it was kind of a joke that everyone always asked, "What high school did you go to?" Apparently that tells a lot too. Go figure.
You've hit on a conversation that I think people in America have all the time. Although Americans often make assumptions (like Lynne did with you and also what you experienced with your nephew) that the place you are from is based on how you look. A lovely post, as always, Ande!