Identity: A Geographical Perspective

Identity: A Geographical Perspective

“Where are you from?”

“What is your ethnicity?”

Do you ever get asked questions about your identity?

How about me? Could you guess my ethnic background or identity? In fact, you could put your answer in the comment section and see if you aren’t alone!

There is going to be some humor in this post. Beware!

My name is Sophia. Like Sophia Loren with the big eyes, or Sofia Vergara with the big breasts. I haven’t called myself these names; I am only (vainly) conveying what people have said since childhood and in later years.

I have consistently been asked these questions: where are you from? What is your ethnicity? At some point I decided to ask the curious person what they thought. The guesses across U.S. state lines varied only slightly: Brazilian, Moroccan, and Indian were the top three guesses. Less than a handful of times someone guessed Italian, Eritrean, and Afghani (I wondered if they had been stalking me, but they just had a good eye for phenotypes).

I am a Mhaya from the Haya tribe of northwest Tanzania, west of Lake Victoria. This is the tribe of my mother and my grandmother, while my great-grandmother was from the Kingdom of Buganda. I am also Punjabi, Afghani, Eritrean, and Italian; and that only covers up to 4 grandparents & my great-grandmother Nshashwoi – I think her name is so awesome! I consider myself all those things, and I am aware of being all of them to some, and one of them to most. At this point in my life I wonder, more than anything else when it comes to this, how I feel about it all and how I identify. 

It’s an ongoing question, but I know I am not alone in answering it. I think there are others who are going through the same thing, so I hope this post can help someone with today’s set of… wonderings about their identity.

Sophia in Italia

When I lived in Italy as a kid, I honestly had the best time! We played outside; I ran and ran and ran; we shouted; we had spit contests; we did our homework; we played palla a calcio, aka football or soccer; we hid from the Carabinieri driving by, as if we had done something wrong. I am still in touch with most of my neighbors and elementary school friends; they hold a special and beautiful place in my heart. There were parts of childhood that were tough and in retrospect uncertain, but overall, I think it was pretty great!

The grocers across the narrow street from our house were super nice and let me learn how to do things around the shop when I asked. I never thought anything really deep, when the husband would tease and say “O! Are you getting bananas today? You guys like them where you’re from!” with a big smile on his face. I just thought that was a stupid comment and that he was only making a joke. So I took it as that.

It wasn’t until 20 years later that it dawned on me that in our class, there were just two of us who were not “olive-skin white Italians”. I mean… our olive skin is there, but you know, mixed with some other things like… cardamom and Thai basil. 

We tanned really well! No one pointed any of that out, though, and childhood went on as I wish it would for all children.

Sophia in Tanzania

When we moved back to Tanzania I learned Kiswahili and English as quickly as I could. I jumped straight into 6th grade with two-weeks’ worth of English classes, and let me tell you… it was quite the experience! From a class of 18-24 students, all speaking Italian, all friends since yay high, to a class of 90+ students, speaking in languages I didn’t understand, and looking at me like only a part of what I am ethnicity-wise. How dare they!

One girl in particular was really cool. She was African (color omission is intentional) and she knew all these cool English hip-hop songs that I heard in 6th and 7th grade. Our Cameroonian teacher would let us sing them in class. Her English sounded perfect, even though I didn’t know the meaning of all the words we were singing (now that I speak English I can say she does speak it excellently.)

As time passed and I learned to speak the local languages, people started asking me about my ethnic identity; guessing that I was Baluch, Omani, Arab, or Indian. The Somali girls would befriend me and we’d hang out quite a bit. I remember being in Form II (think sophomore year in U.S. high school) and a group of Indian girls asked if I wanted to be friends, to which I said yes. The next morning at school, the group of Indian girls and I waved from across the courtyard.

During that same morning, I met some more friends in class, and during class changes I walked with them to our next destination. Three of the Indian girls from that morning saw me with my new friends, looked at me, hugged their books tightly to their chests, and walked past us like they didn’t know me.

During recess I went to say hi to the Indian girls, and sure enough they had changed their minds about hanging out with me. The only difference that I could think of is that the friends they had seen me with looked pretty coffee-skinned.

It’s so strange to me to say Black, as Black is not a word anyone used to describe our identity; not even the darkest-looking person… unless they were really, really dark… like beautiful moon-lit nights. In this case, someone might have called them ‘of the night‘ or ‘of blackness‘, which was sometimes done in a collective jest that included the person being discussed, and at times it was used to be hurtful.. The more I say, the more wrong it sounds, but I am not here to lie to you or paint a picture that isn’t so. Back to my point, though. Africa is home to so many skin colors, physical features, and hair textures!

So it was, that from that day I chose to not say I was Indian; that included Afghani. I was Tanzanian, Eritrean, and Italian. I didn’t watch Indian movies if I could help it, I didn’t seek out anything to do with my Indian heritage at all. I still ate Indian sweets like gulam jamun because, well… it’s gulam jamun.

I came back to appreciating and happily embracing my Asiatic identity in my 20s. Of course that small group of girls was not a complete representation of all Indians, just as most small groups aren’t a complete representation of a group or an ideology or belief.

This brings us to Sophia In the United States of America, but see, that is an entirely different experience, that requires its own post.

Before I go, I would like to ask you: Did any of this resonate with you? How does it feel? You don’t have to answer that publicly, but you are free to do so.

I hope it feels reassuring or that it helps in some way.

This is an original post for World Moms Network by Sophia.


I am a mom amongst some other titles life has fortunately given me. I love photography & the reward of someone being really happy about a photo I took of her/him. I work, I study, I try to pay attention to life. I like writing. I don't understand many things...especially why humans treat each other & other living & inanimate things so vilely sometimes. I like to be an idealist, but when most fails, I do my best to not be a pessimist: Life itself is entirely too beautiful, amazing & inspiring to forget that it is!

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CANADA: No More Color Blindness: Why I Talk To My Kids About Race

CANADA: No More Color Blindness: Why I Talk To My Kids About Race


I used to think that racism didn’t exist any more.

Growing up in the Caribbean, in a cultural mishmash of a class, I learned about the slave trade and the underground railroad as part of history. Our teacher read to us about Harriet Tubman. We saw videos of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech. We learned about Rosa Parks.

History. (more…)

Carol (Canada)

Carol from If By Yes has lived in four different Canadian provinces as well as the Caribbean. Now she lives in Vancouver, working a full time job at a vet clinic, training dogs on the side, and raising her son and daughter to be good citizens of the world.

Carol is known for wearing inside-out underwear, microwaving yoghurt, killing house plants, over-thinking the mundane, and pointing out grammatical errors in "Twilight". When not trying to wrestle her son down for a nap, Carol loves to read and write.

Carol can also be found on her blog, If By Yes, and on Twitter @IfByYesTweets

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WORLD VOICE: Embracing Diversity & The European Refugee Crisis

WORLD VOICE: Embracing Diversity & The European Refugee Crisis

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Photo Credit: Jennifer Lovallo

In a time where one’s ethnicity is being questioned or disregarded, as evidenced by the treatment of Syrian refugees, I thought it timely as one of the topics at the recent Social Good Summit.

I’ve attended the Social Good Summit three times, and each time, I came away wanting to be involved more than I ever had before. The topics ranged from human rights to AIDS activism and most importantly this year, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that are being discussed and implemented by 2030. One of the speakers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, spoke about the importance of being involved at a time of intolerance. The topic was titled “Refugees: The Route to Resettlement” and the panelists outlined what must be done to resolve this issue.

For UNHCR Guterres, it wasn’t just Syrian refugees that need to be addressed as he states, “let’s not forget that 86% of refugees are in the developing world”. It’s become almost “normal” to hear about refugees from Syria looking to resettle, but that’s where the problem lies. Developed countries like the US and Europe should be taking in more refugees, but whether it’s a matter of logistics or fear of being replaced, it has affected the plight of Syrians. Currently, there are more than 4 million Syrian refugees displaced globally and while U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced this September that the United States would accept 200,000 refugees, that is a fraction of those who are currently displaced. For Guterres, it’s not enough that we open our doors wide; he believes that the international community must do more and time is of the essence if these issues are to be resolved. These “refugees” should not be shunned but embraced because “diversity is a richness, not a problem”.

Another panelist who made an impassioned plea to find some solutions for this issue was UNCHR Ambassador of Goodwill Ger Duany. Duany was a former child soldier, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, until he fled to the United States in 1994. For Duany, being a former refugee makes him a great barometer for what could be the future of refugees. When he became a political prisoner, he turned his life around and has become an example of what one can accomplish given the chance.

What is becoming dangerous at this time and affects the future of anyone looking for asylum are the economic ramifications that result from helping them resettle. In addition to economic instability, there is a pattern of xenophobia that is being experienced in Lebanon, Jordan and currently, Europe. Xenophobia is an unfortunate byproduct of the unknown, but it should not shape or affect how we treat others, especially those who are in danger.

It is necessary that as a society, we remember that so many of us came from places where we were forced to leave our homes, families and lives. It is vital to remember that without “refugees” our society would not have the richness of cultures that we have today.

It is disconcerting that a “refugee” , whose primary goal is to find a safe haven for themselves and their families, has evoked negative responses from those who feel threatened by their presence.

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Photo Credit: Jennifer Lovallo

As someone whose parents came to this country to escape martial law in the Philippines, it is heartbreaking to see photos and read of the plight of these refugees, seeking asylum and freedom from their suffering. As a wife and mother of a teen, I can only imagine how I would be if I were ever in the same situation. My family was lucky to have escaped from a dictatorship, but I also know that it could have gone quite differently.

While the Social Good Summit has come and gone, there is more work to do if we are to solve the refugee crisis at hand. The SDG’s and conversations are great starting points, but concrete actions are needed to ensure that refugees are not ignored or forgotten. It is my hope that the implementation of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals will propel actions to resolve this crisis.

Does your own family have a history that includes a refugee tale?

643977_4650501065206_366589375_nThis is an original post written for World Moms Blog by guest  contributor Tes Silverman of

Tes Silverman was born in the Manila, Philippines and has been a New Yorker for more than 30 years. Moving from the Philippines to New York opened the doors to the possibility of a life of writing and travel. Before starting a family, she traveled to Iceland, Portugal, Brussels, and France, all the while writing about the people she met through her adventures. After starting a family, she became a freelance writer for publications such as Newsday’s Parents & Children and various local newspapers. Four years ago, she created her blog, The Pinay Perspective. is designed to provide women of all ages and nationalities the space to discuss the similarities and differences on how we view life and the world around us. As a result of her blog, she has written for and been invited to attend and blog about the Social Good Summit and Mom+Social Good. Currently residing in Huntington, NY with her husband, sixteen year-old daughter and nine year-old Morkie, she continues to write stories of women and children who make an impact in their communities and provide them a place to vocalize their passions.

World Moms Blog

World Moms Blog is an award winning website which writes from over 30 countries on the topics of motherhood, culture, human rights and social good. Over 70 international contributors share their stories from around the globe, bonded by the common thread of motherhood and wanting a better world for their children.

World Moms Blog was listed by Forbes Woman as one of the "Best 100 Websites for Women 2012 & 2013" and also called a "must read" by the NY Times Motherlode in 2013. Our Senior Editor in India, Purnima Ramakrishnan, was awarded the BlogHer International Activist Award in 2013.

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UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Us. Them. How Can We Become a “We?”

A few weeks ago, standing on the sidelines at soccer practice, I was doing the mom-chat thing with a woman I’d only just met.  She said she’d lived in Abu Dhabi for about seven years, but was thinking of moving back to the UK before her older daughter started high school.

“I know it’s too early to think about it,” the mother said, laughing, “but things happen, and I wouldn’t want her to end up marrying an Arab, after all.”

Our kids were playing indoors to beat the heat, and scattered along the sidelines with us were a smattering of dads in dishdashas and moms in abayas, and some other Western parents. No one heard this woman’s comment and she seemed unconcerned about what she’d just said.  I looked at her, trying to figure out if she were joking (she wasn’t). (more…)

Mannahattamamma (UAE)

After twenty-plus years in Manhattan, Deborah Quinn and her family moved to Abu Dhabi (in the United Arab Emirates), where she spends a great deal of time driving her sons back and forth to soccer practice. She writes about travel, politics, feminism, education, and the absurdities of living in a place where temperatures regularly go above 110F.

Deborah can also be found on her blog, Mannahattamamma.

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