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Where are you from?

rlee03's picture

One of my favorite meetings of ASA was when we were helping make posters for the ASA Culture Show. We all wrote quotes on papers referring to something memorable that happened to us or a stereotype that we wanted to disprove. When we were sharing these quotes that we made, someone talked about something that happens a lot. It’s when people ask us “where are you from?”

It's a difficult question to answer, and my answers vary depending on where I am and who I'm talking to. At Bryn Mawr, I always answer this question by saying “I’m from Taiwan,” just because it’s simpler than explaining how I’m American but moved around a lot growing up. But it’s also funny when people say “wait, but you don’t have an accent when you speak English…” 

My friends who is Japanese American grew up her whole life in California. She’s never been doubted for being from California until she came to Bryn Mawr. It’s happened multiple times where people ask her “where are you from?” And once she answers “I’m from SoCal.” They say, “no, where are you really from?” It always frustrates her when people doubt that she’s American, or when the question isn’t clear enough.

Are you asking where I grew up in? Or are you asking what’s my ethnicity? It sometimes feels like being denied of our own identity.


jccohen's picture

what's the question, really?


I'm curious about whether you see this 'difficult question to answer' as a microaggression as well as a 'stereotype'...  As I see it, it's based on a set of assumptions about what it means to be 'American,'  assumptions about how people look, speak, etc.  As you note at the end of your post, there's an element here of denial, of others presuming that they can tell who you are. To make all this more complicated, though, is there at least sometimes also an element of real curiosity - that is, when (if ever) might this question actually be about getting to know someone better?