Answering the Question "Where Are You Really From?"

“Do you eat dogs?” asked my French peers, when I studied abroad in France junior year. Whenever they asked about China I froze up– a knee-jerk reaction due to past insecurities about my heritage. It felt like they were dissecting me, trying to determine exactly where my “otherness” stemmed from.

Though I was born in Shanghai, China, my parents and I immigrated to the U.S. when I was 2, so China is just a country I visit every few years to see my grandparents and extended family I barely remember. I consider myself American in terms of my beliefs, values, and attitudes. However, whenever I travel to another country, I’m always asked where I’m “really” from. I’d say, “California”, but this wasn’t an acceptable answer for most people, who would continue pressing until I finally said, “China.”

Credit: Angelina Wang

I hated being asked those types of questions, so although I was initially reluctant to discuss my ethnicity, it was one of the few subjects I could talk about with my limited French knowledge. As I forced myself to open up more, I realized they weren’t asking about my ethnicity to remind me I was different from them. Rather, they were simply curious about my background, and appreciated, rather than judged me.

Their questions arose from genuine interest and prompted me to willingly share what it means to grow up in California with Chinese heritage, from celebrating New Year’s Eve twice a year to learning old Chinese songs from my parents. In return, I learned about the six-hour meals and close familial units of the French.

I found that I enjoyed sharing my background with people who were simply curious and that culture can be discussed without a racial lens. They came from an entirely different perspective, and in sharing my story with them, I learned to embrace and appreciate my culture in ways that I never did back home.

Credit: Angelina Wang

Through interacting with people from a different background, I’ve developed a new and different perspective on my own background. When someone asks about my heritage now, I no longer hesitate to answer. I’m still learning more about the country I was born in and where my parents grew up, and I’m proud to be who I am.

 

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