My Responses and Yours to “The Tiresome Question I’m Often Asked about My Brown Kids: ‘Where Are They From?’”

The author with five of her children in 2012. Photo credit Jessica Remmey

Building community in the space between readers and a text

“[it may be t]iresome, and inconvenient. But still a white experience for you. I know plenty of ‘brown’ mothers of fairer skinned children who are (with great kindness) presumed to be the hired nanny. Even though your interlocutors come from the same place of ignorance and idiocy, the effect on the ‘brown’ mothers is not just tiresome, it is demeaning and worse.”

“‘You’re so good with children, do you have any extra hours…?’ I would be asked. ‘Excuse me, do you mind telling me how much you charge per hour?’ Apparently, it never occurred to them that a woman who looked like me could be the biological mother of a fair-skinned and blonde child. When I answered that the child was mine, I could see the look of embarrassment and confusion — and then, the beginning of a convenient explanation: ‘Oh, is she adopted…?’”

The author and her son (not her husband). Photo credit Sean P. Lambert St. Marie

He’s not my husband

“‘Are you two married?’ ‘Is that your husband?’ ‘We have a great couples discount as well!’ It’s quite disturbing and extremely awkward, but none of it compares to the very noticeable level of awkwardness they experience when we tell them we are mother and son.”

Trying (and sometimes failing) to respond with generosity and kindness

Five of the author’s six children. Photo credit Megan Dowd Lambert

“I’m glad you wrote this, it’s an interesting perspective. As a Mexican American (born in Ohio, parents born in Texas), I’m always asked where I’m from — to which I say ‘Ohio.’ And then I’m usually ‘corrected’, ‘Yeah, but where are you from?’. I mostly just chalk it up to people not articulating their thoughts clearly. I truly hope they aren’t assuming, because I’m dark complected, I’m not from around here! It’s probably naïve of me to do so, giving others the benefit of doubt like that. These exchanges can definitely be frustrating sometimes.”

“‘Brown people are born here too.’ I often wish I could yell this from the rooftops. The question ‘Where are you from?’ is among the first I’m asked in any non-face-to-face interaction. In person, my American accent and Boston pride are unmistakable. But if I’m online dating, the first assumption others make about me is that I am not from here. And nothing can irritate someone who bleeds red, white and blue more… Not having white skin does not mean I belong here any less than anyone else. My parents were immigrants, but I’m about as American as it gets.”

“As for me, when folks ask me where I’m from I too let them know the Midwest city I was born in. No but seriously what’s my culture? American as apple pie. ‘Your English is really good, when did you come over here?’”

“I’m Latina and have been asked the ‘Where are you from?’ question my whole life. It’s weird, I never really thought about it the way you explain it, but you’re so right. I always felt strange about it, but I also hoped that it was just innocent interest in my heritage. Even worse is the ‘What are you?’ question… That one really gets my blood boiling. As if I could be something other than human. I’m infinitely proud of my ancestry and ethnicity and welcome interest in it, but some people don’t actually care. Some people only see that I’m ‘different.’”


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Megan Dowd Lambert

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Megan writes about kids' books & writes them too. She teaches Children's Literature at Simmons College and is a mother of 7 in a multiracial, blended family.

Embrace Race

our community of support around race and raising kids, more at embracerace.org