It is quite confronting when the very first question someone asks when you meet is “Where are you from?” and other times when it’s slipped into conversation it’s merely an innocent question out of curiosity. But, for the purpose of the article I have faced more often the question up front said to me, without any care. The irony is when you ask a Caucasian person where they are from, it’s most often “Oh, I’m from here”. The thing is my first answer is I’m from Sydney (because this is where I live), then the questions strikes up again, “No, where did you come from?” then to that I answer I come from New Zealand (as I was born there). The last question is usually “Where are your parents from?” I’ve learned to say “I was born and raised in New Zealand, but my parents are from Taiwan.”
We don’t tend to ask Caucasian people very often where they come from, even though they may have an interesting background of family from England, America, Germany, Russia, Italy and so forth. Culture is an interesting topic for conversation, but when it is talked about with ignorance, it becomes difficult to talk about. I used to easily answer “I’m from Auckland” and I could get by, but nowadays people are very specific. The thing is I consider myself a Kiwi. But, when the colour of your skin or the way you look is something you can’t hide, we have to face these sorts of questions. We shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions about race, culture and origin, but it needs to be done sensitively.
It’s obvious, we simply cannot be defined by a whole nation, nor can we be defined by a whole race. We can stand proudly that we are part of this country, but as an individual, we are all so different. Asking one where they are from, often stimulates instant stereotypes, questions about Asian culture and unnecessary questions for conversation. In nationalityunknown.com it says Saying you are from a certain country means nothing when you consider all the different nuances there are in being from a country. Did you grow up there? Where? What social class? How did your parents raise you? Where did you go afterward? What influenced your life? All of these are experiences. Experiences that shape your life. Experiences that are more revealing than the simple question of where someone is from.
There is constant categorising and limitation in creating a concept of where people are from. It is such a deep question because we are all a walking history of ourselves. I get told, especially if I’m overseas that some people can tell I did not grow up in an Asian country. The need to categorise and group people happens far too often in our society. Race is a serious topic that needs to be addressed. The words “Where are you from?” -gosh, they affect so much on the opportunities that people get, they set cliches and stereotypes immediately. Since growing up, I have been faced with enough subtle and upfront racism to understand that many people do treat others differently regarding to their race.
We all have different experiences in our lives. Nowadays when I get asked, I use the question as an entertaining look at what others guesses are. I ask them where they think I’m from. No one has ever guessed correctly until I tell them. But, let’s be more sensitive when we ask this question. Rather than striking this question with demand, ask with care. A funny story is when I was asked the question by some Asians, I cannot tell you the number of times the conversation does not go any further if my ethnic background is not the same as theirs. We all want to feel connected, but the question somehow separates and makes one feel disconnected (at least I know it makes me feel like that). Sometimes, the way some people ask it, is similar to asking “Why are you here?”
Read an interesting article here from Mabel Kwong talking about being asked “Where Are You From”
Read the article Don’t ask me where I’m from, ask where I’m local from nationalityunknown.com