Every time I hear this question, I immediately go on the defensive. This person thinks I’m from Asia! Gosh! Yet, I’m not entirely wrong on assuming what the other party thinks; most people will profile me on the way I look to determine how they should speak with me.
I actually dreamt last night that I was waiting in line at a library, waiting to ask a question, and I was ignored by the librarians; they instead wanted to help out the non-Asian patrons behind me. In the dream, I ran off yelling about how rude, disrespectful, etc. the librarians were.
Growing up, I experienced a lot of discrimination like this; even today, my family and I are discriminated against. Whenever I go to the store with my mom back home, the cashier is always cheery to the customer in front (and behind!) us; when we get to the front of the line, the cashier immediately looks down, doesn’t raise his/her eyes to us, and doesn’t try to conjure up conversation.
We speak English, you know.
When I first started getting the question of “Where are you from?” in my adult life, I’d wrestle with my answer for a good few minutes. Do I tell them I’m from China? But wait, I wasn’t even born there and have only visited once. Do they want me to say I’m from China or somewhere in Asia? et .al.
I’ve received this question many times since moving to Denver, and nowadays I’ve perfected my answer to this: “I’m from Virginia. How about you?” And it seems that this is the best way to reply back to the question. Oftentimes I feel that the other party does want me to say I’m from somewhere in Asia, but by answering with my home state, I nip that thought in the bud. Sometimes I get the follow-up question of “Where are your parents from?”
Sometimes I get the jerkish question, “No, where are you REALLY from?” And at that point I just want to drive it home with a Southern accent: “I’m from southwestern VirGINeeya, thank ya very much. Where are y’all from? Wesconsin?”