Where do you come from?
Most people answer this question quickly, easily. In my case, I always say
“Poland and Russia.”
Did you always live here?
As with all easy answers, it barely answers the question, neglects its
complexities, ignores what is actually being asked.
What are your roots?
I come from my family. I come from Canada; Quebec; Montreal. One branch of
my family arrived here in 1917, the other in 1933. They, like all European
Jewry, came from centuries of wandering across Europe, enacting a perpetual,
biblical cycle of migration, settlement, assimilation, prejudice,
Where are you from, originally?
Think about that question before you answer it: masticate; ruminate; digest
it in one section of your brain, then pass it along to another, then pass it
back. I am asking you about origins: how do you happen to be here? Where did
you begin? What happened between then and now that makes you what you are?
What particular combinations of facial features, hair colours, eye colours,
heights, weights, diluted and miscegenated down long centuries, across vast
geographies, from person to person to person, resulted in you? What
admixture of sperm and ova, of X- and Y-chromosomes, narrowing down the
centuries like a vast round-robin genetic tournament, comes to a point
Who are your people?
Imagine your parentage; imagine we have been having this conversation, and
you turn around to discover that, all of a sudden, the mob of those who came
before you are standing behind you, watching you, listening in. Look at
them: they made you, they are responsible for your existence; but do you
belong with them? Belonging has nothing to do with lineage or genetics,
after all. What ties you to them? What separates you from them? When I was
wrestling with my sexuality, I would regard myself in the mirror, and a
slide show of old-world sepia photographs would flicker through my
mind—iterations of stone-faced rabbis, conglomerations of judicious men and
imperious women—and I thought to myself, “I can’t be gay; I’m a Krishtalka.”
To this day, I know of no other member of my family—immediate, extended,
ancestral—who desired the way I do. (Perhaps they did, and kept it secret.
Perhaps the seismic pressure of tradition and bonds of marriage severed
other, more delicate and furtive ties.) There are a number of bridges that
connect me with the men and women of those bygone photographs; my sexual
coming-of-age has burnt some of them. How many are the bridges between you
and your progenitors? If you could, would you cross them to shake hands? Do
you reflect them? Do they anticipate you?
Are you from around here?
I am a rivulet, branched off of a stream, branched off of a rapid, branched
off of a river, branched off of the ocean. I am where I am because of the
invisible directions of currents, the vast movements of tides, the crashing
of waves. I am the distillation of a whole series of strange, perturbed
waters; I am the result of a honeycombed network of meetings and liaisons
and loves and mythologies; I’m Canadian, born in Montreal, a
second-generation child of Jewish immigrants from Poland and Russia.
Sholem Krishtalka, 2012