Third-culture kid, that’s what I am. I was born in Venezuela, hold a Spanish passport and have lived in Beijing my entire life. Well, since I was 3 months old. But where am I really from? There’s no definite answer; there’s just a gray area that I don’t really like to touch. Because if you want a full-on, one word answer, it would be "Nowhere." And sure, that may sound a little depressing but it’s actually good fun. It allows me to get creative. "But Camila," some people say, "Are you crazy? You have to come from somewhere!" Let me explain how this wonderful world that we live in has allowed me, Camila Ochoa Mendoza, to come from absolutely nowhere.
Let’s start with the basics. My dad calls himself Venezuelan. Why? Because he was born in Venezuela, he grew up in Venezuela, he speaks like a Venezuelan, he dances like a Venezuelan and he acts like a Venezuelan. It’s as simple as that. And he’s a pro at all of them, whereas I am definitely not (even though sometimes I like to pretend that I am). When I go to Venezuela I feel like Tarzan. People always ask me where I’m from, because I definitely don’t fit in with that crazy crowd. In my extended family, I’m known as The Chinese Granddaughter.
"So if you’ve lived in China your entire life, why aren’t you Chinese?" you might ask. Well, because in China, if you don’t look Chinese, you aren’t Chinese. I’ll be riding the subway, surrounded by Chinese faces, and everyone’s talking about me in Mandarin. During my five-minute journey, their whole conversation will be about the white girl standing next to them. And just when I’m about to leave the subway, I’ll turn around and say, "Hey guys, it was lovely riding with you all. Have a good day," in my fluent Chinese. Never does it cross their minds that I can speak Chinese just as well as they can and understand everything they are saying. Or I’ll be bargaining, and the shopkeepers will ask me why my Chinese is so good. I tell them it’s because I’m Chinese and they just laugh at me. "Very funny. You’re not Chinese, you’re white!" I normally just end up telling them I’m adopted.
Apart from the fact that not a single Chinese person will call me anything but a waiguoren, it is also unfair on my part to call myself Chinese. Who am I kidding? I’m not Chinese! I live in Shunyi, for goodness sake. I go to an international school, have very few Chinese friends, don’t celebrate Chinese holidays and don’t live like a Chinese girl. Sure, I’ve lived here my entire life but that’s not a good enough reason to call myself Chinese.
That leaves us with Spain. I have a Spanish passport for two reasons: One, because my mother is Spanish. And two, because having a Venezuelan passport means I’d always be picked on in airports. Spain and Venezuela have similar traditions, and I celebrate most of them. I speak Spanish, and I do have family there, but I honestly feel less Spanish than anything else. Bull-fighting doesn’t really do it for me. Although I must say, I was quite proud to call myself Spanish when we won the World Cup last year!
Now you see why it is so hard for me to answer the simple question, "Where are you from?" Sometimes I wish I was born in a Maasai Mara tribe and spent my entire life living in a little mud hut so I could, without question, call myself Kenyan. But being raised with so many cultures surrounding me is actually a really great thing. It’s allowed me to be so much more accepting of other people and to be open-minded about traditions. I have a 360-degree view of the world, and I can choose which angles I like best. I take little bits and pieces from each country and put them together to make my own.
I guess I was wrong when I said I come from nowhere. It’s actually quite the opposite. I come from everywhere.