What Being Asked “Where Are You Really From?” Feels Like

“You’re being sensitive” or “stop being so serious” they’ll say when I talk about how fed up I am of being asked where I am really from.

I’m a first generation Korean Canadian. 1.7 to be exact. My family immigrated to Canada when I was in first grade. I’ve been asked where I’m from at least once almost every week of my life.

Just think about that! No really, can you stop and think about that for a minute? It’s almost like a woman having to remind people that she’s not really a man, but (surprise) an actual woman. Imagine a life where every week you have to explain to your fellow Canadian friends, neighbours, strangers on the subway, and colleagues that you’re just like them. Imagine a life where people don’t believe you when you say what you are.

I know this is difficult for those who haven’t been put in this position. Even my own mom doesn’t get it. She thinks it’s a perfectly reasonable question. Her logic is that since I don’t look like the typical Canadian, of course people will ask where I’m really from. I guess she has a point.


And when you think about it, it’s rather ironic that Canadians ask other Canadians where they’re really from. In all of Canada’s post-racial “multiculturalism glory,” a policy that essentially says all cultures are equally valued, why does one feel the need to get to the bottom of someone’s race? I mean, who cares, right? We’re all so past race.

Well, it seems we aren’t over it because people keep asking. Race matters because it carries privileges for some and consequences for others. The truth is that we don’t live in a racially free system where everyone is equal before the law.

People are also adapting this supposed “change.” Many people today know it’s rude to ask where you’re really from. So they’ll find other ways to get at the same answer from “what languages do you speak?” to “where are your parents from?” Genius.

So then, what is the appropriate question? There is none. The trick is not to ask but to wait. I will tell you my ethnicity when I’m ready.

Many of us need time because most of us have endured some form of racial outing or discrimination. As a result, many of us have mixed feelings when it comes to our Asian identity. Many of us are happy to talk about our Asian background but we need to get to know you first.

[tell us of a time when you received unwanted attention for being Asian in the comment section below!]

Written by Leila Lee


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