Sunday, October 10, 2010

On Origins

"So where are you from?".  This was a question I asked and was asked many times while traveling through Europe.  It also a very tricky question to answer.  Actually, it only gets tricky when the other party becomes presumptuous.  When I ask "Where are you from?" I expect an answer of where they currently reside, or where they've recently decided to take residence.  However, when people ask me the question, its sometimes prefaced with a "So are you Chinese?  Korean?  Japanese?"  Well... yes... I am one of those if by birth and blood, but do I identify myself first and foremost as Chinese?  Hardly, and I would feel awful for doing so.  There's far too much wrong with China as a whole for me to identify with it, and thus being that I'm neither culturally or locationally Chinese, I feel like I can say first and foremost that I am American, and with an addendum of Chinese descent.  The real issue however isn't any malevolent intent on the part of people I talk to but rather a gross misunderstanding in what it is to be American.  I'm not really sure what someone from Argentina, or Brazil, or France really think when they hear "American" but I would guess they they expect to see someone who isn't quite so Chinese-looking.  The thing is, from this initial first impression they don't bother to try and actually figure out where I'm from and just assume that since I look Chinese, I must BE Chinese.  Its actually quite easy to tell that I'm not Chinese, and you just have to wait until I speak and realize that I neither speak English with a thick accent nor do I immediately go to Mandarin first before going to English.  Also, just by my accent alone one can place me as either American or Canadian, and quite honestly I wouldn't mind being identified (rightly or wrongly) as either one.  It would mean that the other party understands me, and that they aren't about to jump to conclusions even before we start speaking.  When I begin a conversation with someone, I would always take into account not only how they look but how they speak, as accent is a far better identifier of origin than looks alone (try picking out a Brazilian in London or Paris... its not easy on looks alone).

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