Tuesday, April 27, 2021

But where are you REALLY from?

Last year, I got into an argument with an acquaintance L. We were at a bus stop, and he started chatting with a group of young people next to us.

L: Are you visiting, or do you live around here?

Youths: [various chatter]

L: [to one of the young women, who looks Asian] So where are you from?

Woman: New York.

L: Okay, but where are you really from?

Woman: What are you saying? I don't seem like I could be a New Yorker?

L: Where were you born?

Woman: New York.

L: Where are your parents from?

Woman: China.

L: Ohhhh, okay. [turning to me] Hey Niniane, you're also Chinese. You two have that in common.

Me: L, why couldn't you just accept that she's from New York? Why did you have to keep grilling her? 

...

The woman and other youths caught their bus. L and I argued for another 20 minutes. He was mad that I "ruined" his pleasant conversation with this woman. I was offended that he kept saying she's not really a New Yorker. 

Afterwards, I felt some self-doubt. Maybe it's that not bad of a question. It is a microaggression, but on the grand scale of things, is it so bad?

This week, I mentioned to a friend that although I've lived in the States since I was 5, I didn't think until my mid-30s that it would be accepted if I called myself "an American". I would call myself "Chinese American" or "a Chinese person who grew up in America".

My friend asked why. When I thought about it, I realized it's due to this question. If I say "I'm an American", the reply will be "But where are you really from? Before America?" It happened to me dozens of times, and I learned to just skip the middle steps and jump to what they want to know.

But the result is that I've had trouble feeling accepted as an American, even though all my childhood memories are from America and I've been a US citizen since I was 18 (my entire adult life). 

So, that little question really did have an impact, more than I realized. 

There's no real need to ask this question. I don't see white Americans asking each other, "Where are you really from? Where did your grandparents immigrate from? Ireland? Germany? Italy? How many generations ago?" 

1 comment:

Piaw Na said...

I've had this happen to me ever since I came to the USA. I think it's annoying that somehow we're not "real" Americans. But then again, when I visited Germany during the Bush years, I ended up saying I'm from California so people wouldn't assume I was one of the right wing crazies. I guess it cuts both ways. :-)