“Where are you really from?”
Marie Zafimehy

Hi Marie, I enjoyed your article, and equally enjoyed the reflection it stirred in me about the topic(s). So, thanks.

To many of the others responding here, and regardless of where you may be from, I want to remind you that in the present state of paranoia and xenophobia gripping the world, these sorts of introductory questions can be loaded. If not by intent, then upon receipt. That’s a sad state of affairs, and much innocent curiosity must now be more carefully shared as a result. The sensitivity required for that is not a bad thing to develop however.

Growing up in Washington, DC, my friends were from all over the world. I loved it. I was usually the first kid in the classroom to invite the new kids home for dinner. I thrived on the diversity of my friends, and the first question that popped out of my mouth was normally, “Where are you from?” Followed by, “Cool! Come to my house for dinner this week”. Such curiosity among children was normal and innocent. The downside of having friends from so many places was that inevitably their parents were transferred again within a few years. If a good friend was around for more than three years it was unusual.

I have lived in a a number of fairly different places so far, most of them (obviously) not where I was born. I am a Euro-derived American, now living in Europe, and have a Mediterranean skin tone. I’ve lived, worked and traveled in many places where my “whiteness” made me stand out as the odd one, and I know what it’s like to have stereotypes and presumptions drawn around me and walling me in. It sucks. Living in Europe, my accent still provokes those sorts of questions. It gets old.

Being able to share the experience of being “placed” and typed is one thing. Needing to be on the alert for negative treatment based on that place-typing is an entirely different situation.

Thanks again for reminding us to think twice and consider how social questions might be received.