Tak Toyoshima, creator of “Secret Asian Man,” and Jeff Yang, one of the editors of the recently-published book “Secret Identities,” sign copies at the 2009 AAJA Convention in Boston.
â€œWhere are you from?â€ â€œSo, where are YOU from?â€ â€œHi, whereâ€™re you from?â€
I was in Boston a couple of weeks ago, at a convention where everyone asked each other â€œWhere are you from?â€ and no one got offended. It cracked me up, hearing the question over and over.
Let me explain, for my non-Asian readers: Just about every Asian American I know â€“ seriously â€“ has been asked this question sometime (or many times) in their life. Itâ€™s often preceded by a variation of the statement, â€œYou speak English so wellâ€¦ where are you from?â€ And once we answer â€œCalifornia,â€ or â€œDenver,â€ itâ€™s often followed by a variation of â€œNo, you know what I mean, where were you born?â€ Which might be followed, after we answer â€œCaliforniaâ€ or â€œNew York City,â€ by â€œNo, whereâ€™s your FAMILY from?â€
Thatâ€™s when we can cut off the silliness and get to the point: â€œAre you asking whatâ€™s my ethnic heritage?â€
I just donâ€™t see European Americans having this conversation, unless they have, say, a British or French or German accent. People assume Asian Americans are foreigners even if we “speak English so well” because of the way we look.
Anyway, I heard the â€œwhere are you from?â€ question dozens of times and we all answered eagerly without getting defensive. Itâ€™s because the ones asking were also AAPI, and we really did want to know where each other was from. We were at the annual convention of the Asian American Journalists Association, a non-profit professional organization that supports Asian Americans in the media.
And after spending several days in Boston with the AAJA, I have hope for journalism. Continue reading