Here's what a typical conversation between a stranger and I sounds like:
Stranger: Hey, where are you from?
Me: (automatic eye rolls) I'm from Canada.
Stranger: (taken aback) Oh no, I meant where are you really from?
Me: (like I just had an epiphany) Oh! I'm from Whitby, but living in Toronto now.
Stranger: (confused) But wait, you're Asian, right?
I can't tell you how many times I've been asked this question, whether I'm in the big city or in the suburbs. Whenever somebody asks me where I'm from, or where I'm really from, what they're trying to figure out is what my heritage is.
They're asking me where I'm from, as if I'm not Canadian
This would be OK if they were using the right words, but they're not. They're asking me where I'm from, as if I'm not Canadian, and this rubs me the wrong way.
I'm Chinese, but I strongly identify as a Canadian, because I was born and raised here. So when people start questioning if I truly am from Canada or not, I automatically get defensive. What's even worse is when people try to guess my background, like it's a fun game. (It's not.)
Asking me, "Where are you from?" is offensive. Here are four reasons why.
1. It implies that I don't belong here.
Simply put, this question is alienating. You are implying that I couldn't possibly be from Canada, so you need to know where I really come from.
Here's a news flash: Canada is a multicultural country. Sure, it has a large number of immigrants, but that doesn't mean every person of colour or person of a certain ethnic background wasn't born and raised here. Just because I'm Asian doesn't mean I'm less Canadian than you are.
Asking "Where are you from?" automatically labels the person being questioned as "other," and nobody appreciates that. So just stop.
Just because I'm Asian doesn't mean I'm less Canadian than you are.
2. People who are asking are trying to define me.
Yes, my race and culture are a huge part of my identity and I'm proud of it. But why is there a need to define me, especially within the first few minutes of meeting? And why feel the need to come up to me on the street? I DON'T EVEN KNOW YOU.
Don't get me wrong, I appreciate it when people are interested in my background, but if the only reason you're asking me is so that you can try to relate to my Asianness -- don't.
3. It leads to more rude questions and comments.
This happens whether you're aware of it or not. Asking me where I'm from leads people of all races to try to connect with me based on my background. More often than not, this ends poorly as people tend to follow up with more offensive questions or comments.
Subsequent attempts like, "Nǐ hǎo" or "My best friend is Asian, too!" are not OK, because they are said out of ignorance, rather than a genuine interest or desire to connect.
In one instance, after learning that I was born in Canada, one person commented, "Wow, your English is so good!" No shit, Sherlock.
Another went on to describe me as "exotic," because I didn't look like what they thought a typical Canadian should look like (i.e. white).
People often make assumptions about others based on what they look like, but that doesn't mean you need to share those thoughts with anyone.
I am more than just the stereotypes of my race. I am also more than just my background and I don't need you to try and connect with me based on that. What's wrong with simply connecting as human beings who like the same movies or went to the same university? Nothing. So why not talk about that instead?
So what's a more appropriate way to pose this question? Ask me what my background is.
4. It's none of your business.
The majority of people who ask me this question are strangers. They walk up to me on the street or at the mall and they ask point-blank, as if it's the most normal thing in the world.
This is completely inappropriate. Asking me where I'm from is a personal question and is similar to walking up to someone and asking what religion they follow. This is something you only learn as you get to know someone, not something you go up and ask a stranger without warning.
I understand that most people are not asking this question to be offensive. They could just simply be curious because they love learning about different cultures. I'm 100 per cent open to talking about my culture with you, but you need to learn how to ask properly.
So what's a more appropriate way to pose this question? Ask me what my background is. This question is far more specific and does not contain the unintentional negative connotations that come with asking "Where are you from?"
Or better yet, don't ask me at all. My culture is part of my identity, and from having a simple conversation with me, you'll soon find that out. Ask me about my parents or where I grew up. Ask me where I consider home to be. Ask me where my heritage lies or what languages I speak.
Just don't ask me where I'm from.
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