Pasar Malam are the best kind of Malam!
[tw: perpetual foreigner stereotype] An Incident
Colorblinding I luv yew
This morning, there was a woman in the elevator with me as I headed to my office. I’ve never met her before. We make small talk, and she was friendly. We get off the elevator and walk in the same direction.
Then she asks me, “Where are you from?”
I get that a lot because I’m Asian-American and I’m not a native New Yorker.
I say, “California” because I really am from California. I grew up there.
Then she says, “No, no, where are you really from? Where are your parents from?”
Excuse me? What?
Now, here’s the thing. She wasn’t being racist, or malicious, or anything like that. She seemed geniunely interested and asked nicely. She really sincerely did not know that question can be offensive.
I tell her, and she replies, “Oh, I’m from Montreal.”
She went into her office after that and I went on my way, but it got me thinking.
Even being in a diverse city like NYC, this random woman still viewed me as someone who didn’t originally come from this country. Now, look, I get a lot of racist shit, usually from some drunk guy, so I don’t let the comments bother me. But today was different. I truly think this random woman did not know the non-offensive way to ask me where I was “really from.”
This incident reminds me of the stories the Jeremy Lin coverage generated, and how the Asian American Journalists Association had to put out a document to the media about the difference between Asian-American & Asian, Jeremy Lin & Yao Ming, and Taiwan & China.
I try to see the best in everyone, I believe that almost everyone has good intentions, and I try not to let this city’s craziness get to me. Today with this random woman, I choose to view her question as she was simply curious and didn’t know the right way to ask me where I was “really from.”
UGHHHHH. A couple of times I’ve actually said to people, “I know what you’re ACTUALLY asking, so just ask it.” Or sometimes they’ll say, “No, where are your parents from?” To which I truthfully say, “San Francisco and Tracy,” or just “also California.”
Of course, it depends on the person and the tone of the conversation at the time, but generally people get the hint.
(What I thought was interesting was while on a cruise in Australia back in 2005, was that when people asked this, they were Australians who had never actually met an Asian American who wasn’t from Hawaii. And I was happy to indulge/educate. It wasn’t that they doubted our American-ness. They were just genuinely intrigued. North Americans from/in North America, you should know better.)
Because being Asian in America means being a perpetual foreigner.
i have this happen quite a lot. i feel like the appropriate response for me should be like this:
“where are you really fr-“
“kentucky stop asking this shit it’s racist”