Well, Reen, you never did tell us where you’re from.
Way to fall back on implicit promises.
I know, I know, sorry. I got distracted by daily life.
Before I give you the answer I know you’ve been waiting for eagerly (don’t argue with this), I want to talk about the question “where are you from?” itself. It’s a seemingly innocuous question for most, but occasionally a very loaded question for those like me.
For Third Culture Kids.
Or, for Asians that live in a predominantly white country (read: USA).
Now, it’s never an issue when those who ask me genuinely care, when they don’t mind that I hesitate and fumble for the presently most relevant and accurate answer. It only becomes a problematic question when I can sense that the person asking me has an alternate agenda.
As in, they are clearly asking me because they don’t think I’m from the U.S., and want me to prove them right. Or they’re bored, and trying to make small talk, and are visibly uncomfortable when they realized they’ve accidentally encroached upon the territory of ‘pretty personal information’. You know the face that people make when you’ve talked too much or shared too much and they clearly do not appreciate it? Yeah, I’ve seen it way too many times.
To phrase my above sentiment more eloquently, let me share an excerpt from an article I wrote (ha) previously for The Cornell Daily Sun, titled (surprise!) Where Are You From?:
“The problem with the question “Where are you from?” is its implication. There’s an underlying assumption that people are from one place and that place only. That’s true to an extent — we all know where we’re really from: our mothers’ wombs. But that’s not what people want to hear. There is a strong desire to put everyone into boxes, to label and shelve each person under different categories. We want to understand a person and size them up, quickly — but on our own terms.”
What does that all mean? It means, stop asking people this question if you’re not actually interested in the answer. Start being more open-minded and flexible about people’s identities: yes, it is possible for people to identify with more than one territory, one city, one country, one culture.
Speaking of which, here’s another thing people can stop doing: stop trying to make people choose just one identity label. That’s like asking a person with 20/20 vision which eyeball they identify with more, which they’d rather go without. The answer is, that’s a stupid question and no one should ever dignify it with an answer.
Q: So Reen, where are you from?
A: I am from the U.S., Taiwan, and Japan (in no particular order).
…But I’ll speak more upon my answer in a later post.