“Where are you from?” conversation put on video by Ken Tanaka

It’s amazing how many Asian Americans I know have had to suffer through this stupid conversation. In fact, I’ve met very few Asian Americans who haven’t heard the question, “where are you from?” or some variation, like, “You speak English so well!”

Or, having people come up to you, put their hands together and bow, and say “konnichiwa” in a bad accent, automatically assuming I speak Japanese.

What’s with that? Seriously, we don’t ask European Americans “where are you from?” and note how well they speak English…

Kudos to Ken Tanaka for coming up with this short comedic video that captures the frustration of hearing these lines. Tanaka is the nom-de-comedie of David Ury, a Sonoma native, standup comic and actor who lived for several years in Japan and speaks fluent Japanese. While in Japan he developed a persona as the Japanese-speaking crazy foreigner, and Ury is also known as a manga expert and translator.

As Ken Tanaka, he’s built a YouTube following with videos in which he claims to be a white person born in LA but adopted by a Japanese family in the 1970s, who’s now back in America, searching for his birth parents.

UPDATE: The actors from the video are in a new video, reading some of the comments submitted on the “What Kind of Asian Are You?” vid.

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3 Responses to “Where are you from?” conversation put on video by Ken Tanaka

  1. phil says:

    Haha!! Yes, one could see how that would get annoying. Why don’t people in the U.S. often say that kind of thing to African-Americans though? Perhaps it’s because Asians are seen as “newer arrivals” or something (though many of them have been in the U.S. for generations as well, like the women in the vid). In the movie “Basquiat” about the late artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (if I got his first name right), occasionally people would ask him that, and he’d reply, “I’m Haitian-American.” If he was lucky, people didn’t ask him “Do you practice voodoo?” or “Do you know Papa Doc or Baby Doc?”

  2. Gil Asakawa says:

    Good point, Phil! You’re right — African Americans and other people of color don’t get that questions as often as Asians. I think if they have an accent people get curious (like you point out, recent immigrants). But Asians get that question even if we have no accent and are several generations American. Or worse, we get the “You speak English so well” comment….

    Thanks for reading and posting!

  3. M says:

    Because Asians are so different from Americans that is why.

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