For anyone who has grown up as an immigrant with family who were born in another country, you’ll understand how complicated that question is. I get asked it all the time, often by strangers who are just being friendly. The question of, “where are you from” seems so simple but to me, it’s so complicated and requires me to basically tell my life story and more personal details that I’m not always comfortable sharing. My parents were born in Vietnam, while I was born in Indonesia, and then we moved to Canada. I think what people really want to know when they ask that question is, what are you? But for me, where I’m from is just one part of my identity. I’m also Canadian, I’m Vietnamese, I’m a refugee. My skin colour is just one part of who I am, but it does mean I get asked that question.
I used to get annoyed when people who I never met asked me that question, because it happened so often that I got tired of trying to explain my complicated origins. I also didn’t appreciate that only certain people (not white) got asked this question, when European immigration does exist as well. We are a land of immigrants both white and non-white. We are mostly all from someplace else.
Now I’ve come to see it as a more positive question. It makes me feel like I’m in a land of travellers, where many people are in transit to or from another place. It’s a question that implies that the person being asked has history. I just wish everyone was asked that question, because we all have a history, a culture, and a backstory to tell.