Where are you from?
I know people get asked this a lot.
I have a love hate relationship with this question, for lack of a better expression. The “love,” although I use this term loosely, comes from the fact that I find myself asking this same thing quite often. I also somewhat resent being on the receiving end of it. It’s not so much the question itself I have a problem with, it’s the context in which it’s being asked. It’s the nature of the answer that people want that bothers me.
See, when I ask you where you’re from, I quite literally want to know where you moved to San Francisco from. I know that most of your answers will consist of things like: “I’m from Boston,” or “I grew up outside of Chicago.” I’m a naturally curious person, so I find things like this intriguing. It can usually make for some decent conversation. When people ask myself or my parents this, it usually bears some kind of hidden meaning. The question is really something like:”Where is your accent from?” Or “Wow, you’re different looking- what’s your ethnic background?” At the very first, the hidden meaning of the question seemed harmless enough, people would ask me things like this all the time. However, I quickly started to notice that many of my friends weren’t subjected to the same kind of questioning. It’s suddenly become a game of “Guess My Ethinicity!”
With the exception of Karen from Mean Girls, very few people will walk up to you and ask your ethnicity outright. So they choose something like “Where are you from?” instead.
Once, in Las Vegas, I answered this question truthfully: “I’m from San Francisco…you know, the Bay Area.” Only to get a “No. I mean where are you from? Are you Latina or something?” I’m happy to share my stories with people, but when strangers approach me with this as their opening line, it still takes me aback. I wouldn’t walk up to you and say things like “Hey! What are you genetics like? You have some really hyper-extended knees!” It’s a weirdly personal question.
It bothered me even more, as a child, seeing my parents get subjected to similar treatment. My father likes to be stubborn, and insists he’s from “here.” Right here, California. It makes people uncomfortable, because it doesn’t get them the answer they’re looking for. Especially in today’s political climate, no one wants to approach a Middle Eastern looking man and directly ask him what his “deal” is. “Excuse me, sir, what war-torn country are you from and how did you get all the way over here?” wouldn’t go over well, I imagine. Then, people get an eyeful of my mother, who they then confuse as Australian, instead of Austrian, and then want to know everything. Of course, how they met is quite a story, but I don’t always feel compelled to tell it. Don’t get me wrong, I very much appreciate and enjoy the uniqueness of who I am. I just don’t always feel like being gawked at like a zoo animal. (I know I’m not the only one. Please see #4 and #10 on this Buzzfeed list on “21 Feeling All Mixed-Race Kids Know.”) Someone actually referred to me as a “half-breed” once. My response to that is that at least I’m not a whole idiot, thank you very much.
This isn’t the first time I’ve shared a bit of what it’s like being me. For a little background, you can check out my previous post on growing up multi-lingual here. Sure, 99 percent of the time I feel tremendously lucky; there’s never a dull moment and I always have a story or two to tell. I appreciate your curiosity, but sometimes, it just best to let people share with you, at their own pace. In the meantime, please find a better question to fill the silence.