I am from __________. I contain multitudes.

Poet Michelle Peñaloza. Photo by Timothy Aguero Photography.
Poet Michelle Peñaloza. Photo by Timothy Aguero Photography.


Happy April and National Poetry Month! In this guest post, poet Michelle Peñaloza invites you to participate in a series of events we’re calling the Poetry on Buses Roadshow. We hope to see you.

Do I contradict myself?

Very well then I contradict myself,

(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

–Walt Whitman

For many folks, “Where Are You From?” is often a loaded question because the experience of answering can be complicated, invalidating and exhausting.

Let me illustrate my point by comparing two scenarios unfolding from that question:

Case #1:

“So, where are you from?”

“Nashville. What about you?”

“Oh, cool. I’m from Spokane. I heard Nashville’s nice. Do you like country music?”

Case #2

“So, where are you from?”

“Nashville. What about you?”

“I mean, like, where are you really from?”

“Um. Nashville. What about you?”

“No…like, where were you born?”


“Ok…where are your parents from?”

“Detroit. We moved to Nashville when I was in the third grade.”

“Y’know what I mean!”

“Oh. Yes. I see. The Philippines. The explanation you seem to need is the Philippines.”

“I knew it! love lumpia! When did you come to America?”

 What do we do when we limit our scope of who can be from where? When we invalidate and ignore, or smooth over the nuances of what it means to be from and of a place, a people, a country, a city?

I exaggerate Case #2. A little.  In any case, I am Filipino-American. I grew up in Nashville.  I was born in Detroit. And: These facts are not mutually exclusive!  Still, the lack of space made for the complexity of my history and reality are things I’ve been navigating my whole life. “Where are you from?” has always been a complicated question — not because I didn’t or don’t know, but because people’s responses made me doubt my answer. I learned quickly the subtext of the follow-up: explain your face; it’s not from here.

Skin color, eyes, accents, or lack thereof, each signal our “fromness,” our origins, our homes – but the narratives and realities of these signals are complex – and where we choose to claim as home equally so. It seems fitting that the theme for this year’s Poetry on Buses program is “Writing Home.” In motion, in transit in public space — who are we upon departure? Upon arrival and return?

The “Writing Home” poems demonstrate and engage the complexities of home of “fromness” with breadth and beauty. The program weaves together poetry with the public space of the bus, where “for a short while, all of us are going in the same direction.”

Poet Michelle Peñaloza. Photo by Timothy Aguero Photography.

I’m honored to continue the work of Writing Home by emceeing and curating three Poetry on Buses events in conjunction with King County Libraries and the Folklife Festival, beginning in April, National Poetry Month. Poets from the Poetry on Buses project will join me to share visions of home. Through prompts and casual workshops* you’ll have the opportunity to engage and explore for yourself the complexities of our claims of home through the lens of poetry.

Let’s interrogate, complicate, and celebrate homeLet’s listen to and honor people when they choose to share with us their answers to the question: “Where are you from?”



April 25, 2PM @ Covington Library, 27100 164th Ave SE, Covington, 98042

May 9, 1PM @ Bellevue Library, 1111 110th Ave NE, Bellevue, 98004

May 23, Noon – 6PM @ Folklife, Seattle Center, 305 Harrison St, Seattle, 98109

Big thanks to King County Library System, our partner in the library events. And to Whole Foods Market Roosevelt Square for providing refreshments.


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