“Where Are You (Really) From?”
Why you shouldn’t be asking this question.
These conversations are so annoying.
Them: Hey, cute dog! Can I say hi?
Me: Sure! He’s friendly.
Them: I haven’t seen you around here before. Where are you from?
Me: I’m a New Yorker.
Them: So, you’re a New Yorker without the accent, huh?
Me: I was born nearby but grew up in California.
Them: I knew it — your accent. But, where is your family from?
Me: Curious why you’re asking?
Them: I was just making conversation.
Me: Okay…well, my parents are from India.
Them: India! You don’t look Indian. I work with a lot of Indians, and they have really dark skin. You look more Puerto Rican — it’s your nose. You could also pass for Jewish. I have a lot of Jewish friends…
Being grilled about ethnicity sucks.
People have racial trauma. Americans love to “other” as a sport. Sixteen Candles. South Park. Friends. I was that Indian American teen who dared to cheerlead, wear colored contacts, and dye my hair strawberry blonde. “YOU can’t do that!” Stacey and Heather thought I should be petting my brown girl mustache in the library, not getting attention from boys.
Sexual racism is still racism. People of color often get rude comments on dating apps, despite guidelines to be respectful. “I love exotic women!” “You’re not really Asian.” “I’ll date women of any color.” Emotionally healthy people may have racial preferences, but they navigate them without objectifying others.
Ancestry is sacred stuff. Do you really need to know my heritage to be in my life? Family trees may be your weekend hobby, but not everyone wants to share theirs. Ask yourself why you feel entitled to such sacred information. Is it because you want to stereotype someone?
Education is a great way to take your power back.
Them: Interesting name. Where are you from?
Me: Thanks, I like it too. I grew up in California, but I’ve been in NYC forever. You?
Them: I’m from Connecticut. My family has been here for several generations.
Me: You’re lucky. I have to fly to see my parents. It’s been tough with COVID.
Them: So, where is your family from originally?
Me: New Jersey.
Them: But what’s your background? We’re all Irish and Italian.
Me: I’m curious why you’re asking about my ethnicity…
Them: Most people love talking about their family.
Me: I enjoy talking about my family, but we are more than just our ethnicity. Ethnicity can be an uncomfortable topic for people of color. Maybe wait for us to bring this up on our own?
Them: Oh, I never thought about it that way. Sorry for making you uncomfortable.
A few videos I found inspiring:
I Am Not Your Asian Stereotype, Canwen Xu, TEDxBoise
The Struggles of Being an Asian American, Refinery29
What Kind of Asian Are You?, Ken Tanaka
Final words of wisdom: don’t ask.
If you ask strangers about their ethnic background, you deserve whatever response you get. Sometimes, they may want to stretch their middle finger.