“Where Are You Really From?”


Audio Transcript

Mike: People ask me, “Well, where you from?” I’d say, “I’m from New Mexico.” People would look at me like, “No, that’s not where you’re from.” I want to be gracious about it. People see my face, and they think, “You do not look like a white American.” I think what they’re asking is, “Where is your face from? Where is your body from?”

David: In one sense, it’s understandable. On another sense, there’s a barb with that, or a disappointment, or even a hurt that can accompany that.

“I feel like I’m being pushed away from my own home because of my face, due to no characteristic at all of my personality.”

Mike: Yes, that’s right. There’s this book that came out by a professor at the University of Minnesota, Erika Lee. It’s called The Making of Asian America. There’s this quote there. She says that Asians are perpetually asked, “Where are you from?” And when answers like San Francisco or Chicago don’t satisfy the questioner, they’re asked, “No, where are you really from?” Her interpretation is, and this really rings true to my heart, whether you like it or not — whether I like it or not — there’s a suspicion, or there’s a probationary American that I get to be.

Let’s say that your parents had come from Sweden in the 1970s. You would probably never be asked where you’re from because you’d say, “I’m from Greenville, South Carolina.” Good enough. That fits. But for me, I’m not allowed to be from Albuquerque. I have to be from somewhere in Asia because of the way I look. I feel like I’m being pushed away from my own home because of my face, due to no characteristic at all of my personality. No one says to me, “You don’t act American.” They’re essentially saying, “You don’t look American.” But this is all I’ve ever known. This is home for me.

Yet I want to move toward people in love, to say, “Man, if you want to know where I’m from, I know what you’re asking. You want to know what kind of Asian am I,” and I’ll say, “I’m from Taiwan.”

“As America diversifies, do we realize more and more that Americans aren’t just white and black?”

David: How much do you think that’s a generational thing? Do you think that will still happen the same way now as it did in the ’80s, and twenty years from now, as it does now? Will that change as America diversifies and we realize more and more that Americans aren’t just white and black?

Mike: In twenty years, will we be satisfied with just letting people say, “I’m from Oakland”? Perhaps. I don’t even know if that’s the goal. In fact, I think a goal would be to recognize the effects that globalization has had on our country. That’s what America’s always been.

David: That’s what built this country.

Mike: Yeah, that has built it.

David: We’re a melting pot.

Mike: Yeah, exactly. I would hope that we would allow people to be where they say they’re from. I don’t want it to be a thing of shame — a thing of being a lesser person — to say, “I am proudly from” whatever country you’re from.


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