Where are you from?

Oct, 18 2020
2 Minutes

"Where are you from?"

I used to hate this question. I hated answering it. I hated talking about it. Most of the time, I gave a fake smile with a canned response, brushed it off as no big deal, and got back to my life. I liked to pretend that nothing uncomfortable just happened. But make no mistake, this question used to strike a nerve.

I get it, you want to know my ethnicity. And I'm proud to tell you that I'm Chinese American. But until recently, this question triggered me and it's only in the last couple years that I've realized why.

Growing up, I ignored race. I attempted to erase all parts of me that weren't "normal". And for the most part, I succeeded. I lived my life without thinking about being Chinese.

That is, until I'd get the question - "Where are you from?". Instantly, it all came tumbling down. You can't run from this fact: people see your race before they see you. You are your stereotype before you are a person. It's just how it is.

Nowadays, this question doesn't bother me. I've stopped pretending that race doesn't exist. I've stopped trying to forget my cultural heritage. I've stopped wanting to "fit in", because the real goal was never to fit in, but to achieve mutual respect.

A track

When I think about the question "Where are you from?", sometimes I hear the hook from m.A.A.d city

Man down, where you from, n***?
F*** who you know—where you from, my n***?
Where your grandma stay, huh, my n***?
This m.A.A.d city I run, my n***

Kendrick has strayed to a part of town where he doesn't belong - someone else's turf.

"Where you from" is a simple question, but it conveys power. Just in case Kendrick isn't sure, the questioner makes it explicit: "This m.A.A.d city I run".

Sometimes, you don't really understand something until you've seen it at its extreme. This hook makes it so clear why I hated the question "Where are you from?". It's because the implied answer is "Not here" and the subtext is "Remember, this is my turf".


These days, I answer the question "Where are you from?" with my story - Oklahoma born, Texas/Kuwait raised, with roots in Sichuan.

I don't mind when people are curious about my heritage, in fact, I encourage it. I understand it's not cool to be Chinese right now, that today, China is the bad guy and Hong Kong and Taiwan are the good guys (in terms of Good Asians 2020 edition, that always shifting classification). But it is who I am, and I'm proud of my roots.

Go ahead, ask me "Where are you from?". It's okay.