Where I’m From

I am from the steelpan.
From oil and pitch stolen from the land
I am from the robbed lands of paradise
still fragrant, green, and warm.
I am from mango trees with mangoes,
So juicy and so sweet.
They drip down my nieces elbows
and revive them from the heat.
I’m from rhythm, rebellion, resilience,
every fete, and every lime
from Kenny and from Vernon
and from Athertons farther down the line
I’m from the spirited debates
And the music that makes you wine.
The cousin list that never ends,
And the bumpy bush road rides
From the tiny but mighty women, men with fire in their souls
Religion in the church and ancient beliefs in the home
I’m from Quarry, T&T where my grandparents built
their home along the trace,
not by birth but by the love I feel deep within
that pulls me to this place
Doubles – heavy pepper, roti, and saltfish too
From the father who left to build a new life.
From the family I love but never knew
The big brother and cousin who held me when I reached the land that called throughout my life,
The Island that spoke through the photos on the tv stand,
and the phone calls on the phone,
and the sound of the steelpan on winter nights
calling me back home.



This poem is a testament to my journey “home” to Trinidad and Tobago, the land of my father and ancestors, a land that has whispered to me throughout my life, despite my upbringing in Winnipeg. It is the story of stepping off the plane to the humidity and the smell of tropical plants and then being hugged by my oldest brother for the first time in my life.

It is the story of finding a missing piece of my heart, realizing that the love of family transcends borders, and resonates just as strongly as the bonds forged in Canada over the years.

Through fragments of memories and our family name, this poem pays homage to the richness of our shared history and the depth of our collective love. There are pieces that may only be understood by members of my family, but also tidbits understood by other Trinis like doubles (chickpeas between two flatbreads) by the roadside, or an evening lime (hangout).

Other experiences may be understood by many people who have migrated from regions where mangoes grow ripe and drip to your elbows or where bush roads are bumpy and plenty. It is a poem about me and my identity and a poem about history and the complexities that brought me to where I am today.

The poem begins with “I am from the steelpan.”

You may ask why I would choose such an item to be “from” but the steelpan is an important symbol in this poem as well as an important symbol in Trinidad. The steelpan is the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago and it is a symbol of rebellion, cultural expression and, in my family, a symbol of joy.

The steelpan was created during a time when the colonial government imposed restrictions on African drumming throughout the Caribbean. The steelpan originated from discarded oil drums, repurposed by Afro-Trinidadians who were denied access to traditional percussion instruments.

In the early 20th century, the demand for oil in the area was high. Trinidadians took discarded oil drums from refineries and turned them into instruments of joy. Being “from the steelpan” for me means being from my ancestors; being from the pillaged paradise where corporate greed has pulled oil from the earth and damaged land and seas, where colonialism has tried to steal the culture from our blood; but being from a people who rise above, whose blood holds memory, resilience and joy.

From a family whose love runs deep, whose resilience is unmatched, and whose music plays loud.
The British Columbia Teachers’ Federation Magazine BIPOC takeover issue highlighted the BIPOC 2050 project and George Ella Lyon’s poem “Where I’m From,” alongside the I am from project.

This poem speaks to the question that many IBPOC people hear often “Where are you from?” The question, although often well intentioned, can be frustrating for many IBPOC.

By asking this question there is an implication that the person being asked doesn’t belong here and can reinforce feelings of exclusion and alienation, particularly for individuals who have been historically marginalized or discriminated against based on their race or ethnicity.

The intention behind the question is often well intentioned and an attempt to connect with the racialized person. However what often happens is the asker defines the identity of the IBPOC based on what the asker has experienced or heard about a place beyond Canada.

As such the question can be perceived as a microaggression, which is a subtle form of discrimination or derogatory remark directed at marginalized groups. While the intention behind asking may not always be malicious, the impact can still be harmful, contributing to feelings of racial insensitivity or discrimination.

Of course, for many IBPOC race and culture tied to a different homeland can be huge part of their identity but identities are complex, and the question can reinforce harmful assumptions about people based on what the asker has experienced or heard about a place beyond Canada.

Instead of asking the potentially offensive question “where are you from” there exist more respectful and inclusive approaches to learning about someone’s cultural identity through conversation.

One tactful approach is to directly inquire about their heritage or cultural roots. For instance, one could ask, “What is your cultural background?” or “Could you share a bit about your heritage?” These queries are more specific and sidestep the inadvertent negative connotations associated with the former question.

However, it’s essential to recognize that not everyone may feel comfortable discussing their cultural background, especially with someone they’ve just met or if they have experienced discrimination in the past. In such cases, it’s best to refrain from asking about it altogether. Instead, focus on building a genuine connection through conversation.

Engage in discussions about topics that allow individuals to share aspects of their cultural identity in an authentic way. For instance, you could ask about their family, upbringing, or experiences growing up. Questions like “Tell me about your parents” or “Where did you grow up?” can provide insights into a person’s cultural background without making them feel othered.

Additionally, you could inquire about what home means to them or where they feel a strong sense of belonging. This opens the opportunity for individuals to share personal stories and perspectives on their cultural identity in a more organic and respectful manner.

Approaching conversations with curiosity and kindness, while respecting boundaries and individual comfort levels, is key to learning about someone’s cultural identity respectfully and inclusively. Ultimately, we need to remember that no person owes us their life stories and if you get the feeling that it might not be ok to ask, don’t.

– Originally published in the Spring 2024 issue of the MB Teacher

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