It’s a harmless question. Or is it?
CNN’s Tanzina Vega is tired of being asked where she’s really from, and for good reason.
“Where are you from?” might seem like it’s just innocent small talk, and as Vega says in her latest story at CNN, it often is. But there’s another layer to it also worth examining, especially when answers like “New York” or “San Francisco” aren’t satisfactory for the questioner.
Vega set out to “question the question,” exploring the emotional toll it can have on the people being asked, who usually aren’t white or white-passing. One person Vega quotes touches on the idea that to the people being asked, especially when asked again and again, it becomes a question of one’s legitimacy as a “true American.”
On social media, Vega’s readers shared their own thoughts and experiences being asked where they’re really from.
A common theme quickly emerged.
It’s not so much any single instance of being asked the question that causes so much frustration, but the cumulative effect of years of having to defend one’s own authenticity — what some might call a microaggression.
For some, “where are you really from?” feels like a way to put them in a racial or cultural box.
For others, there’s a telling persistence to people asking the question, who refuse to take the place they were born as an answer.
Cartoonist Connie Sun shared one of her 2014 works, highlighting a very specific kind of annoyance that question can prompt.
And author Anand Giridharadas shared an excerpt from his 2012 book, “India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation’s Remaking.”
Check out Vega’s story over at CNN for a more complete explanation of her take on this question. You’ll be glad you did.