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July 9th, 2009


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12:39 am - Frum? They're frum New York!
Woman on a plane: "Where are you from?"
Me: "Oakland."
Woman on a plane: "No, you're from India."
Me: "Yeah."
Woman on a plane: "I've always wanted to go to New Delhi, blah blah blah..."
Me: *continues putting on headphones*

Random old guy in Berkeley waiting in line for a movie: "You're from India, huh? Pakistan?"
Me: *grunts*

For future reference, here is where I am from: Oakland. California. Arlington. Texas. "San Francisco." The Bay Area. The East Bay. "Dallas." Dallas/Fort Worth. America. The United States. The U.S. My mom's uterus.

You may notice that India does not appear anywhere on that list because I am not from India. I was not born there; I did not grow up there. My parents are from India, but they've been here long enough that they're not really from India either.

Honestly, I don't know what the statute of limitations on fromness is, and I am certainly not the person to define it. But, look, world, I know I have brown skin, and I know that when you ask where I'm from, you really mean to ask what my heritage is. Or perhaps where my family is from. Or my ancestors. You're certainly not interested in where I, personally, am from, as that would require you to look beyond the color of my skin!

I feel like there are a fair number of Indian people around. I cannot be the first Indian person you have run across, and if by chance I am, I will not be the last. Kudos on identifying my race, though! Surely you will get a medal for that. I truly do not care how great you think India is, stranger, because you have instantly alienated me with your totally racist question. I am not a representative of all things Indian. Why do you want to talk to me about how Indian I am? Obviously, you do not read my journal, or you would know that I AM NOT EVEN THAT INDIAN.

Maybe there is a polite way for someone to approach someone of another ethnicity and ask them about their culture, but it would take so many more words than "Where are you from?"

It's a very sticky preposition.
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(131 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")

Comments:


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[User Picture]
From:truemyth
Date:July 9th, 2009 07:45 am (UTC)
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Next time hold up your hand and say "How!"

Oh, sorry, that's another racial stereotype. They all run together after a while. Sorry some people have small brains.


Oh, oh... I know! You could ask them how they like the weather in the "Caucus" Mountains. That one even has a nice double endendre going for it.
[User Picture]
From:cerulgalactus
Date:July 9th, 2009 07:46 am (UTC)
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Just tell 'em you are from Iceland.
From:wee_warrior
Date:July 9th, 2009 08:15 am (UTC)
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Sorry for people being idiots to you, and in general.
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From:heartsways
Date:July 9th, 2009 08:25 am (UTC)
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What a horrid situation. I encounter issues like this - I work with a lot of migrant workers from all around the world, but you do find that there are certain pockets of racism that rear their heads in awful ways. I remember a few years back, one of my students was going on about how many people in the UK aren't actually British because of the colour of their skin. I gently reminded her that "those people" are second, and possibly third generation British because they were born here.

I think she was rather surprised. Welcome to an ethnically diverse country!

Sigh. People are rude.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 9th, 2009 02:55 pm (UTC)
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Welcome to an ethnically diverse country!
America is supposed to be a melting pot, but I do think England has more of a "white" image. Yet, I know from watching British television that there are at least quite a few black and Indian people there as well!

At least she was a student, and you set her straight. I am crossing my fingers for the next generation to be less stupid. At least in this regard.
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From:ora_wai
Date:July 9th, 2009 09:25 am (UTC)
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Stump them and say you're from Fiji.

Next time, act really suprised that you are (visually) identified as Indian. Tell them that they have the droopy mouth/bad teeth commonly associated with the English, and ask if they have just recently arrived.

I'd recommend talking in dialect (forgive me, I can't remember where your grandparents were from), but then you might be exposed to the comments people say when they think you can't understand them.
[User Picture]
From:chrryblssmninja
Date:July 9th, 2009 09:58 am (UTC)
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at my very Asian middle school and high school, people asked, "What are you?" But maybe it was the social climate there or the usuallly innocent tone of the question that people just said stuff like, "parents from Taiwan, I was born here" etc.

I find it funny when people try to figure me out (Filipina-Puerto Rican-American)
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 9th, 2009 02:57 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, the "What are you?" (though it can be a little more obnoxious and sets you up to answer, "Human?") is a little more direct way of getting to the core of the matter, and I've sometimes wanted to ask it myself out of curiosity.
[User Picture]
From:janieluk
Date:July 9th, 2009 10:23 am (UTC)
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Might be interesting to do an age comparison. If they're all 40 and above, then you can hopefully look forward to a couple of decades of this not happening once they've all died of old age. Because, given this kind of question was parodied in Short Circuit back in the 80s (with a guy who had a 'comedy' accent, come to think of it), some people are going to die before they get a clue.

Come to think of it, the link might be as much place as age. I sold door-to-door in Indiana back in the 90s, and I don't recall selling to a single non-white family for the entire Summer. Seems they were living in South Bend rather than Mishawaka. Understanding often requires exposure. The number of people who thought England was a US state, that I would personally know the Queen, and that we wouldn't have such inventions as the TV and the microwave oven was really surprisingly high.
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From:ashfae
Date:July 9th, 2009 02:49 pm (UTC)
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...okay, how do you know Sunil?!?! *world has just shrunk again!*
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From:ladydisdain225
Date:July 9th, 2009 11:05 am (UTC)
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I think it's the "no" in the "no, you're from India" that really gets me.

I understand that people look for surface cues when attempting to connect with strangers. I don't think it happens to work much, since the things apparent to the general population aren't specific enough to produce a lively conversation. (Good book? is not a conversation starter if you aren't a reader yourself, every person I've stood in line with ever.)

I tend to put comments about cultural background in this category. I can't count the number of times people have assumed I'm French when they hear my name even though Jean is closest to a SCOTTISH variation of Jane/Joan/Jean/Jeanne and Marie is a seriously common middle name.

So while perhaps a bit misguided, I recognize "where are you from" (especially on a plane) as an attempt at connecting, and grant it a bit of leeway.

However, ignoring secondary cues (like where you're ACTUALLY from) to persist in one's intended line of conversation, well that's just obnoxious. "I've decided I'm going to have this conversation because you look like it would apply and even though you told me it doesn't, I'd rather not take the time to come up with anything else, since you're not really a person but merely a way for me to fill my time while I wait for X)

Bah.
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From:lareinenoire
Date:July 9th, 2009 12:01 pm (UTC)
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I usually answer with some variant of 'Born in Boston, but my parents are from India', but I don't actually remember when I started doing that. What really gets me is the fact that someone tried to correct you on a subject on which you are clearly the expert. Ugh!
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From:spectralbovine
Date:July 9th, 2009 02:52 pm (UTC)
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She seemed so taken aback by my answer. And she seemed almost annoyed that I hadn't "understood" her question. She completely dismissed my actual answer, as it was irrelevant, since that's not what she had been asking, OBVIOUSLY.
[User Picture]
From:scripted22
Date:July 9th, 2009 12:30 pm (UTC)
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Maybe there is a polite way for someone to approach someone of another ethnicity and ask them about their culture, but it would take so many more words than "Where are you from?"

Despite being so white I could glow in the dark, I am occasionally asked what tribe I belong to or whether or not I am Italian. Asking, "Are you Italian?" is much different than asking me if I am "from" Italy, and it takes fewer words! No one has ever asked me where I am from and expected any answer other than where I grew up or where I currently live.
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From:electricmonk
Date:July 9th, 2009 12:36 pm (UTC)
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God, people are dumb as rocks. You should leer at them creepily and say, "Actually, I'm from the mooooooooon."

Might not do much to advance awareness and understanding, but at least they'd probably shut up.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 9th, 2009 03:01 pm (UTC)
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I love you.
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From:sisterjune
Date:July 9th, 2009 12:42 pm (UTC)
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Ugh, I know how you feel man. I'm arab-american and I cannot count the number of times I have been asked this. You know when I was younger I didnt care so much but as an adult I cannot fathom why people think it is ok for them to come up and ask me this. It's so rude and tactless why does any adult think they have a right to address me or other non white looking people that way? But you know if I'm asked that, in the middle of a conversation cause the person is curious of my heritage even if i dont like the phrase that much I can ya know let it go and answer politely. however if it's the first or second thing I'm asked upon someone first meeting me then that's the point where I start wishing they would pls go DIAF. Sadly I prefer to behave in a mature adult way even when others are not so I usually just let it pass but while making it very clear via my expression and tone how much I dislike this question. Not that it ever works -_- It is funny when people make a shocked face when they hear me speak with a bit of a southern accent and find out I lived down there all my life. Since most of the people who live in my area now came down here from up north or out west. Which ironically makes me way less foreign than they are!
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From:catalyst2
Date:July 9th, 2009 01:19 pm (UTC)
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Again? Or should that be still? You've got to start headbutting people or something!

One thing that living around the world has taught me is don't assume origins or ethnicity from appearances. Case in point: I ask my classes to introduce themselves on the first day of the semester and talk a little about themselves. Remembering that this is in Australia, the only people in the class that were actually born in Australia were the 6 non-Caucasian students (none of whom were indigenous Australians, either) and the other 16 were all born in the UK, NZ or other places. It sure made talking about cross-cultural differences interesting that semester.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 9th, 2009 03:04 pm (UTC)
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Ha, that's interesting.
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From:silveronthetree
Date:July 9th, 2009 01:37 pm (UTC)
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Aaargh! Yes, this drives me completely insane. And they just press and press and I end up admitting that "yeah, ok some of my ancestors came from India about 200 years ago", just to get rid of them. Which I shouldn't have to. It is really none of their business.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:July 9th, 2009 03:05 pm (UTC)
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I suppose they're just...satisfying their curiosity? Or treating me like a museum exhibit, one of the two.
[User Picture]
From:tackdriver56
Date:July 9th, 2009 01:41 pm (UTC)

Where are you from... No....

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I've never been averse to telling people that my family name comes from Switzerland, the German-speaking part. That might not have been so well received fifty years ago, even though all my relatives were here prior to WWI and some prior to the Civil War (or the War of Northern Aggression, depending on "where you're from").

I like to listen to language and dialect, and try to guess where people grew up. That seems to be a relatively safe conversation starter, even when I guess wildly wrong.

Maybe you can respond with "Born and raised in California. (Army brat?) Bounced around a lot. How about you?", Get them off you, and talking about themselves...and see if you can guess THEIR accent. Then you can zone out.

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