The Part Where I Explain Myself. (Aka: “Where are you really from?”)

I really didn’t want to write this post. Mostly because so many people back home have yelled at me for “always pulling the race card” and such. I’m sorry, did my heritage and ethnicity suddenly become your plaything? No, so no accusations, please.

Image courtesy of The Atlantic. This is…pretty much how I feel when I have to explain who I am.

I’m sure I’m not the first to say, but let me just say this– living in Luodong Township, Yilan County, Taiwan as an Asian American woman is challenging on a good day. Growing up, I always thought the U.S. was the only place I would get hated on for having an Asian face but speaking native English. Not so, it seems. I think I’ve been spoiled by large cities across the globe–whether it be Chicago, Taipei, Budapest, or Hong Kong, people are used to seeing Third Culture Kids or people with different skin colors speaking different languages. However, it appears that no matter what side of the Pacific you reside on, prejudice looks much the same. I’m too foreign for the Americans and not foreign enough for the Asians. My language is “exotic” in one location and too local or not enough exotic in the next. So, where does that leave me? Without a home. Without a voice. I’m left to translate and listen because that’s what I’m good for, right? Wrong. So very wrong. Based on the way my face looks or how I sound, I don’t “belong” to one country or the other. I belong to both. It’s not about playing dead around white privilege or blindly following any one culture’s leadership. To stand up and speak out about prejudice in either culture can set you apart in not so friendly ways.

I’m tired. Tired of answering the question, “No, where are you really from?” “Chicago.” “Well, where are your parents from?” “Mainland China.” “Oh, you’re Chinese then.” No, that’s not really the way it works, people. I’m sorry, but just…no. I wish I had the time to answer this question fully and respectfully for everyone who asks, even the woman in the orchid hothouse in Yuanshan that pointed at Barry and said, “But you have a yellow face. You’re from America?” Yes, even her.The question, “Where are you from?” says more about the person who asks the question rather than the person who answers it. It says that you care more about where a person originates, something usually entirely out of their control, instead of where they are going in life. So, what does that say about you, now? What does it say?

Pause for a moment before you utter a frustrated sigh upon reading this or attempt to justify yourself if you’ve ever done something like this. Did you ever consider how that question effects other people? Or did you just want more information? Why do you care so much? I don’t think it’s a question about genuine interest in where someone is from. Maybe, but it’s usually layered with implications and generalizations that really take away from such an innocent reason. Perhaps you want to know because you think people from Place A are so-and-so. If this person is from Place A then they must be so-and-so. They just must be. Because if you’re wrong, the world is so much more complicated than your basic world view.

I was born in China but only stayed for two years in Nanjing and Zhengzhou. Then, I lived in Manhattan, Kansas; Des Moines, Iowa; moved back to Kansas; Baltimore,Maryland; Fayetteville, Arkansas; and Oak Park, Chicagoland, Illinois. Now, I live in Luodong, Taiwan. I am from all of those places. I am also not from all of those places. There are some situations and things I would not like to associate myself with because a place is not a person. I am not apologizing for my skin color or the way I enunciate. I speak English well because I grew up speaking English. I look the way I do because my parents are Chinese. So, hence the Chinese-American me.

If people were only interested, there is so much more than that though. Where am I from? I am from a place where blues and jazz runs through its veins. Chicago is the type of city that sings, not sits. I am from a land of lilting songs and hardworking people. Henan, where the Shaolin monks live. (I’m an airbender by heritage, obviously). Where am I from? I am from Ozarks and Indian summers. I am from Liberty Bridges crossing Buda and Pest. I am from blue skies and deep waters. I am from the rhythm on the dance floor, the slow, soft beat when you close your eyes and feel the creaking wood under your feet. I am not of this world, for I was knit in my mother’s womb by God. I am from all of these places.

Next time you judge someone by the color of their skin, I’d like for you to take a moment to think. Do people make assumptions, good or bad, once they know you or only once they see you? Why? Have you ever been judged for having freckles or green eyes or yellow skin? Maybe, maybe if you think about it, then you’ll understand.

It’s not really about where you’re from. It’s how you interpret it. It’s where you’re going.

So…to all my racially aware, no prejudice, and no BS-takers out there:

It is really hard, but you can do it. You are made from something tougher than you even know. You can stand up under this. You can fight things like racism, prejudice, and discrimination in the smallest of ways.

You can, and you will. No doubt about it, you can be a superhero whose superpower is NOT invisibility.

I see you. I see you. I see you.

I feel you.

~S.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28 ESV

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