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.
I've been asked this question in every setting- from interviews to dates. Ppl demand my ethnicity before asking my name. #whereimreallyfrom— Kimya Forouzan (@Kimya Forouzan) 1498050892.0
"So where are you from? Rural Pennsylvania?? Really? It just doesn't look like it...." 😑#whereimreallyfrom https://t.co/lk8IHpG4jM— Touché (@Touché) 1498043389.0
@CNN I always say Illinois! I'm Asian, so that's never the answer people really want. #whereimreallyfrom They want… https://t.co/eVurouNgio— KLoni (@KLoni) 1498013096.0
My family has been in the US since the 1800s but folks asking #whereimreallyfrom assume I'm Israeli. @tanzinavega https://t.co/ZksMvZMf9G— Jake Turx (@Jake Turx) 1497969163.0
The question was also used as a bullying tactic in elementary and Jr. high — by 2nd generation europeans. #whereimreallyfrom— Peter Bradley (@Peter Bradley) 1498049597.0
@CNN @AnandWrites #whereimreallyfrom sounds like a liberal version of "Go back to your country" phrase I heard a lo… https://t.co/8pcK4n0LaZ— Really Really (@Really Really) 1498049331.0
See also: "why don't you speak Spanish?" and "what ARE you?" #whereimreallyfrom https://t.co/V4UryhyP2o— Téa Franco (@Téa Franco) 1498054807.0
For others, there's a telling persistence to people asking the question, who refuse to take the place they were born as an answer.
People: Where are you from? Me: Texas P: but originally M: Austin P: Like before that M: El Paso… https://t.co/aDvtSu3LqK— Daniel Peña (@Daniel Peña) 1497975074.0
@CNN I usually say Boston at first. Then when ppl press I tell them my dad was born in Pakistan and my mom was born… https://t.co/CYHKaRZJNT— INH (@INH) 1498046611.0
#whereimreallyfrom It's Minnesota. https://t.co/MRFkz8oRpK— Rachel Cho (조혜원) (@Rachel Cho (조혜원)) 1498016730.0
#WhereImReallyFrom is an almost daily question. Especially in the summer when my hair is curly. Folks can't fathom dark skin & curly hair.— Thai Eileen (@Thai Eileen) 1498054237.0
Cartoonist Connie Sun shared one of her 2014 works, highlighting a very specific kind of annoyance that question can prompt.
@CNN My face when someone asks #whereimreallyfrom and it's more a comment than a question. 😉 https://t.co/QhLdJRhX5r— Connie Sun 🌞 (@Connie Sun 🌞) 1498013871.0
And author Anand Giridharadas shared an excerpt from his 2012 book, "India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation's Remaking."
@AnandWrites @CNN Its true! #whereimreallyfrom is fundamental. There is no winning! Being told "u r not from around… https://t.co/csFTK17GQR— Michael Gallaher (@Michael Gallaher) 1498048860.0
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.