“Where Are You From?”

It’s the question I most often hear. My hair is black (with red high lights) and my eyes are slightly slanty. I would understand if this was the first question out of their mouths upon meeting me. What I don’t get is how they can still ask this question after listening to my accent-free English.

So, of course, like every other immigrant, I choose to be difficult with my answer. “From here,” I say, and I return the favour, “where are you from?”

It’s interesting. I never understood the need for strangers to identify me by my place of origin. I’ve never asked that question myself, unless there was a direct cause to (they have an accent I can’t place). Why is it that I never wonder “where is that person from?” when I see a black, brown, or white person? Why is it that I don’t give a damn about where and how they grew up?

Oh, right. Because it doesn’t matter.

And then there are the ones who insist on speaking what little they know of Chinese to me, once they learn of my heritage. Ni hao ma? Hooray! You can ask after my well-being in my mother tongue! THAT MAKES US FRIENDS BECAUSE WE SHARE AN INTER-CULTURAL CONNECTION.

I mean, I can form entire sentences in English. I even write lengthy essays in English–but for some reason, that is never as impressive as a white person sprouting three little words for common greeting. No one OOOs or ahhhs over my ability to spell. I never finish a sentence in English and then beam with pride.


And it’s always nice, when I answer them, Wu hen hao. I get to watch the smile fall from their face as they admit that they never learned the language beyond the opening line. Right. Maybe next time you could spare yourself the embarrassment and just asked after me in a language we both know.

I don’t feel prejudiced. I understand that people are not trying to be rude. However I have to admit it feels a little like I am some foreign devil every time it happens. The idea that people need to make it obvious that I do not look like I am from here makes me feel alienated, unwelcome. And when they try to correct the initial faux pas, they invariably make another. Bruce Lee is Chinese, right? I love that guy!

No, you dick. Bruce Lee  was born in San Francisco.

I can’t wait until we discover REAL aliens. Then maybe I’ll get to be the ignorant asshole to someone else.

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