posted by notmyname
The other day, someone I had never seen before in my life came into my office and the first thing she said to me was, “Where are you from?”
“Where are you from?” is unfortunately a frequent question that racialized persons recieve from a curious many. Often, the implication of the question is that the person in question cannot possibly be from the Western world because they obviously look different as they are from a different race and, thus, different place of origin. The implicit understanding often is that only White people are from Canada/USA/UK/etc. The problematic nature of these probes (though perhaps innocent) is something that has been widely covered.
However, what made the instance with the woman in my office different was the fact that the woman asking the question was racialized herself. She was on a student visa and did not have a very strong grasp of English. After first cheekily responding, “Toronto” to her question, she inquired further with a “Where in Asia are you from?” While this question is also abounds with problematic assumptions, it turned out that her and I were “from” the same country. She came into my office to seek help, and the rest of the time, she spoke her first language (which I happen to understand due to my ethnic background), which made me more accessible to her.
This happens a lot with fellow racialized people. They ask me where I am from regularly, and I always respond as I would with White people: I am from Toronto. But the motiviations behind their query are perhaps different, as many seek to find commonalities with me, a stranger/potential friend, and similar backgrounds and experiences lend to this pursuit.
All of this made me think about the fine line between asserting oneself as a Canadian to combat the inherent “Whiteness” of “being Canadian” and having internalized racism and needing to be legitimized by the state/citizenry to affirm my status as a Canadian citizen by birth and NOT as an immigrant. I am from Canada, I was born and raised here, which perhaps affords me some greater right or ownership to the country, hence the need to distinguish myself as a Canadian citizen before any Azn country. Perhaps we also insist on being from Canada also because there is a sense of inferiority affixed with being an immigrant, which is an extremely perilous nationalist narrative.
So whereas the “Where are you from?” question may affirm citizenship/origins as exclusive to White people, it can also be an exercise in nationalism. How mind-boggling.