Language matters. What we ask matters.
For too long, we have been socialized to ask and answer the common question “Where are you from?”
For many Black people and Indigenous communities, this question is triggering because of unknown and/or traumatic, severed pasts due to colonialism. We must remember that personal stories, lineages, cultures, and authentic histories have suffered from systemic erasure globally.
Asking “Where are you from?” continues to otherize folx who identify as BBIA, adopted, multicultural, and more.
For the AAPI community, this question reinforces that we do not belong, and is too often followed up with “But where are you really from?” — indicating a displeasure with and refusal of whatever answer originally given, as if to comment that a person could not possibly be from anywhere other than what is close to or matches the mental stereotype within one’s colonized mind.
Decolonize the idea that the question “Where are you from?” must be answered with a geographical location.
We are from what we say we are from, who we say we are from, where we say we are from, and anything we say we are from that is authentic to who we are.
We each have a multiplicity of identities, and we define for our individual selves if and how we want to respond to this question when we inevitably continue to be asked this throughout our lives.
Our intent matters, and our impact matters.
Reflect on the intent in asking and being asked “Where are you from?”
Regardless of whether the intent in asking meets a surface-level desire to know masked under the false pretense of curiosity that only satisfies the person who asks the question or aims to build one’s understanding, having internalized this question as a truth-bearer of identity, the impact of asking can be harmful, toxic, and traumatic, especially with repetition.
We must reframe the common question “Where are you from?” so that we do not further perpetuate stereotypes, nor do we reduce people to only be representatives of their assumed and/or authentic social groups.
Create and continuously recreate new questions with the intent of building deep understanding across communities and cultures. Involve your communities in this process of reimagination.
“What do you choose to share about your identity/identities?”
“Where do you call home?”
“Who is your community?”
Freedom dream new ways to define and share who you are — for yourself.
Listen intently and fully to the questions, ideas, stories, emotions, and arts shared with reimagined questions to understand your own self, your community/communities, and fellow communities.