Since I am a Vietnamese American and have struggled with my identity as I have grown up, I thought it would be the best topic to start my blog with.
What does it mean to be American?
I am honestly curious how different people from different ethnic backgrounds answer that question with our common connection as American citizens.
There was this Psychology teacher at my high school (who I never had) and he said something to his class (God knows if it was every year!) that I overheard from friends and family that has haunted me all these years.
He said that there is no such thing as a Vietnamese American, or a Chinese American, or even a Korean American. There is no need to identify where you are from. We are all Americans.
Some people may call me out for this, but honestly, I don’t care. I genuinely want to know: can you guess his race?
Yes, he is Caucasian and why is that relevant? Because, to be straightforward, while you can be empathetic and compassionate, I do not believe that a white heterosexual Christian man in America would ever–could ever fully–understand what it is like to be a minority in America. It’s not usually possible and his fundamental ignorance clearly shows with this statement. Another aspect of this situation that I would like to touch upon to further explain why him being white is relevant to this topic is that in my personal experience, it is usually white people who say these types of words. A person of color usually would never dismiss where they are from because their skin is seen and encountered by everyone every day while living in America. No matter what you do, you can never hide your skin color and people will always assume or know where you are from because of what they see.
That aside, if he (the Psychology teacher) truly believes that all of his students are American and there is no such thing as a Vietnamese American, a Chinese American, a Japanese American–whatever, you get me–then why does the question “where are you from?” usually a question that is asked of an Asian American (or an Asian Canadian or an Asian Australian, for that matter) regardless of whether they are a natural born citizen or an immigrant?
Does my citizenship not count? Does the color of my skin and how I look to you make you think I don’t belong here?
That question is offensive because even if I was born here, I don’t seem to belong. And the question also assumes or even implies that I am not a true American because I came from somewhere else because of how I look. Why does it matter where an Asian person is from?
What I am trying to say here is, why isn’t the question “what is your ethnicity?” asked instead. Because, personally, I wouldn’t mind answering that question. In fact, I’d definitely be proud to answer your curiosity. But why, why, why is it always “where are you from?”
Bruh, why the fuck does it matter?
To top that off, who are you to decide if I get to identify MYSELF as a Vietnamese American or an American? I think that this is the exact shit that pisses me off. Why do many white people–no offense to and not the understanding compassionate white folks, especially the ones who are my age and are educated about this topic–think it’s in their authority to determine what and how people of color identify themselves?
It’s not your business and you can go shove it. You know why? Because you don’t actually live and experience my reality. While some white people treat me like I am indeed American, others certainly don’t act like it.
What I am trying to get at is this message: I am who I want to be as a colored person and no one, especially a white man, has the right to erase my identity and who I see myself as living in America.
And I will continue to identify myself as a Vietnamese American, not because white people see me that way through my eyes and hair color (not that I am already proud of it), but because that is where I am from (though not born there) and I am proud of my roots and culture and tradition and where my parents are from.
Quick clarification: I know this sounds contradictory and you might be confused as to why this girl is complaining that she doesn’t like the question “where are you from” yet is proud about where she is from. Here’s what I mean: I am basically saying that, even though the question “where are you from?” annoys me–Yes, Vietnam is where I am from, I don’t need to be made to feel “other” or like an “outsider” in a country I was born in and am a citizen of. In addition, no one has the right to tell me how I should identify myself as well. I also want to make it clear that the question annoys me because if people are genuinely curious as to what my ethnicity is, just ask that straight up. Otherwise, you get into situations where one person (usually white) asks “where are you from?” and the Asian American says “I’m from Florida” because you’re asking this question in, say, California. And then you get annoyed and ask again, “No, I mean where are you from?” and then the Asian American eventually understands what you meant (after maybe several more tries) and answer you directly (finally) that “I am [mothereffing] [Korean/Vietnamese/Japanese/Chinese/etc.].”
Simply put, if you want to know what ethnicity I am, ask it. Don’t go around the question in an attempt to be polite. Because you’ll make the Asian American feel like they don’t belong in America, when they’re, in most cases, a citizen. And maybe that’s the heart of my issue.
Okay, some may argue, that perhaps people who ask this question (“where are you from?”) believe it is a more polite inquiry than being so direct with a question such as “what is your ethnicity?” Furthermore, the question offers them a form of protection because they don’t want to be caught in a situation and embarrass themselves when they ask me “Are you Japanese?” when I am actually Vietnamese and be reprimanded for thinking all Asians look the same.
But I would actually be more understanding of that…then again, that’s just me.
Maybe another Asian American might be offended.
Here’s where I ask my readers–because this may be a poor example, but do my Hispanic-speaking readers get offended when people ask if you’re from Columbia versus if you are from Spain or Mexico or Cuba? Do you guys ever get asked the question of where you are from? Does it offend you when when people get your origin country wrong? Because I am under the impression that that question is usually, if not almost always, directed to an Asian person. Please let me know your experience in my comment section!
Anyway, even if some people may argue that asking an Asian American directly what their ethnicity is is too rude and direct, I again, would much prefer that over trying to hide your true intentions with a “where are you from” alternative. In essence, I believe that the question “where are you from” is so distasteful because it’s a roundabout way of asking something. Moreover, it often confuses the Asian person you’re asking and when they finally figure out the real motive of your question, it just–at least to me–seems shady.
If your intention was to just ask what ethnicity I am, shoot for it. When I realize you had another and specifically, ulterior intention, I get suspicious and mad–like I’ve been duped and that’s what is annoying–all while you make me feel like an outsider and un-American.
I am proud to be Vietnamese because I have come a long way to accept myself for my physical traits and my traditional cultural roots as well (and honestly, it was hard to come to terms with it living in America–in fact I am still struggling with it, especially since being Asian isn’t exactly the standard of beauty here! But more of that later!). And I am also proud to be an American who lives in a country that allows me to share and discuss these types of sensitive topics.
So thank you guys for reading my first blog post about who I am. I hope we can have a calm, open-minded conversation about it. I know this is a controversial subject and it anger some people, but my intention here is to open the floor to discussion; that way I can also learn from different people as well. I don’t want to be stuck in an echo chamber.
Yes, I cuss, but I always have been a potty mouth. My mother hates it, so excuse me. However, that’s just who I am. I am friendly though so please don’t take it personally and mind me. (:
Original Source: This article is from the website “Talking With Donuts”. You can check out this article and more like it on the link below.
Link to Original Article: https://talkwithdonuts.com/i-am-asian-american-stop-asking-me-where-i-am-from-lets-ask-a-different-question
Little Miss Donuts
Little Miss Donuts is a Vietnamese American who loves writing and talking about many topics about and around the world. Through her blog, talkingwithdonuts.com, she wants to be able to engage with her readers in a way that makes them feel connected to her as if she is sitting right in front of them sharing a cup of tea, or perhaps a doughnut.