How to describe nationality/heritage when a parent is deceased?
June 26, 2020 1:11 AM   Subscribe

This seems like it should be fairly straightforward, but I find I keep struggling with describing this when I'm asked about my heritage. Both my parents are/were from a different country than the one where I grew up and live. Before one of my parents died, I would respond 'My parents are Xish, I was born here'.

Now I find that the present tense of this makes me stumble and I end up saying 'My parents are..were.. Xish' or 'are..were... from X', which makes it sound like both parents died (and probably recently!) leading to some degree of unnecessary awkwardness.

Using the present tense for my deceased parent just doesn't feel right. There must be an easier way around this. I've found that saying 'I have Xish heritage' is too vague and people then ask me more questions which again leads me trip over the 'are...were' construction. If I say 'they were born in X' people seem to assume they aren't/weren't Xish nationality which isn't the case. I'd rather just be able to describe my parents' nationality without any time-bound grammatical tense construction which means that people don't then feel like they have to offer apologies etc. Please point out to me what I'm sure is the glaringly obvious way for me to simply describe this to others!
posted by rrose selavy to Writing & Language (21 answers total)
How about "both of my parents were born in X," "both of my parents grew up in X," or "both of my parents came here from X." Those are all phrases where past tense sounds appropriate regardless of whether or not someone is deceased.
posted by acidnova at 1:18 AM on June 26, 2020 [12 favorites]

Do you have citizenship of X? 'Dual nationality, X and 'current country''.
posted by plep at 1:53 AM on June 26, 2020

“I was born in Y to Xish parents.”
posted by mbrubeck at 1:54 AM on June 26, 2020 [3 favorites]

A common thing I've seen is to run the heritage story down with few words, counting off each bit with the fingers like items on a checklist:
"Chilean father, Laotian mother, they met in Madagascar, I was born in Tasmania, grew up in Arkansas, went to college in Michigan."
It answers anyone's perfunctory questions quickly; and if some part of it resonates ('I have a cousin in Antananarivo!') they can pursue that. If you do it while rolling your eyes, you can watch them realize you've been asked this a lot, maybe too much.

Or, Are your parents from different regions in X? If someone told me their mother IS from Idaho and their father WAS from Iowa, I might take the hint.
posted by bartleby at 2:18 AM on June 26, 2020 [6 favorites]

"My parents moved here from X"?
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:30 AM on June 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

"My parents moved here from X, I was born here"
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:38 AM on June 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

Second-generation X-ish Y-ian?

Y-ian child of X-ish immigrants?

I trace my lineage to four distant countries, which makes my answers to such questions something of a mouthful, but also avoids the specific awkwardness you’re struggling with. I can’t possibly be from all four places, so I must be from *here*, with all of that other stuff in the hazy genetic distance. I hadn’t realized the advantage in that.
posted by jon1270 at 3:25 AM on June 26, 2020

My family is from X/my family is Xish but I was born here.
posted by needs more cowbell at 3:25 AM on June 26, 2020 [4 favorites]

You could also just say, I'm from here, if you want. People aren't entitled to know your ethnicity just because they think they are.

Signed, someone who delights in frustrating these questions by responding with the answers for my less-obvious ethnicity, just to watch em squirm.
posted by dame at 3:58 AM on June 26, 2020 [18 favorites]

My parents immigrated from X before I was born.
posted by kjs4 at 4:20 AM on June 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

"Ethnically I’m Slovenian, but I was born in the U.S."
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:39 AM on June 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

If your parents are from different countries, whatever noun is used to describe that nationality:

"American mother, French father, I was born in Canada"

"Pakistani mother, English father, I was born in the U.S."

or whatever the case may be.
posted by iminurmefi at 6:31 AM on June 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

My mom recently passed away, but my parents were both so proud of being Xish. I am too although I was born right here in Y.
posted by AugustWest at 6:39 AM on June 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

I get asked this because in NYC, so many people are from someplace else, and stating that you're from here often means you get asked way more questions. My dad was a refugee of X descent (but really lived 99% of his life in NYC), my mom was born here to X immigrant parents, and depending on mood, and how it's getting asked and how oblivious people are/how they've treated others around me with the same question (in order of snark):

"I'm American of X descent" (what my parents taught me to say in response to these questions)
"Second generation x" (although I'm never sure if I'm supposed to say first or second)
"I'm American"
"I'm a New Yorker of X descent"

"I'm from NYC. yes. really, it's possible that people are born and raised here."

If they really don't take the hint: oh you were asking about ethnicity? depending on how they've treated others in the conversation/how oblivious they are: "I'm an American of X descent" OR "I'm white."
If they still aren't really getting it: oh you want to know where my parents were born? "New York and a refugee camp" and then they may get a lecture.
posted by larthegreat at 7:04 AM on June 26, 2020

I'm sorry for your loss.
"I'm from an X-ish family, and I was born here." (You can elaborate on when your parents moved to 'here,' specifying the year, if you like.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 9:08 AM on June 26, 2020

I use "I'm from a bunch of places"
posted by aramaic at 10:27 AM on June 26, 2020

Without speaking to the larger question of why/when to even answer this question, you could say "I was born in X, but my parents originally came from Y and Z"-- this doesn't offer any implication as to what they're up to now or whether they're alive.
posted by dusty potato at 11:32 AM on June 26, 2020

How much do you want to say? Your answer can be as vague or specific as you are comfortable with. My parents immigrated from Wonktopia via Communist-era Islandistan and I was born in Placeopolis and moved here when I was a student. vs. / handwave I have Western Eurostanisan roots. If pressed, I live here in Townham, why do you ask?

Some people cannot imagine why I don't pursue my ancestry, but it's just not a big deal to me. One friend is from a country in a region I'm interested in, but otherwise it's a sort of interesting topic of conversation, but my background really isn't anybody's business.
posted by theora55 at 12:09 PM on June 26, 2020

If someone asks me if I'm am Veteran or thanks me when I hand them a USAA debit card, I say, "my dad was." I may add, "26 years in the Air Force."
posted by bendy at 9:16 PM on June 26, 2020

I say "My parents were born in India, came here in the 70s, I was born here."

If there is a follow up question, like "Are your parents still in America?" I reply with "My dad lives in California, my mom passed away many years ago." This inevitably leads to murmurs of sympathy from the question-asker but the conversation can be easily changed to something more mundane unless you actually want to speak more about the experience of having a non-living parent.
posted by nayantara at 8:31 AM on June 27, 2020

"My parents came from [Country] but I was born here"
posted by Jacqueline at 12:12 AM on June 29, 2020

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