"But where are you really from?" Ah yes, the question that I and other POC have run into time and time again while living in Toronto. I've been wanting to write more about my experience as a "child of the diaspora" but I couldn't really figure out what exactly to say, or even how to say it. I just couldn't put it into words, until one day I realized that the one question I've been hearing all my life is a loaded question, so why not start with that?
One could attribute it to the gateway into micro-aggressions, but for me, this question presents a myriad of experiences. To give context, I grew up in a city that was pretty diverse. I didn't run into the "first generation" lunchtime problems of having my lunch be referred to as something gross. I didn't have to tone down my culture to fit into a certain mould at school, my friends were pretty damn diverse. Even in high school, it was still pretty diverse, never did I really feel like an actual minority. School always felt like a giant melting pot of different cultures coming together to get through the day. It wasn't until I hit university that I became truly aware of being "Asian" at all and that was a really interesting experience in itself.
So having those experiences, hearing the "but where are you really from?" question is honestly pretty annoying for me. I'm Filipinx but don't look like the "typical" Filipinx which is probably based on my skin tone which is on the lighter side. Upon hearing my response about 99% of people look flabbergasted and ask me again where I'm actually from, as if I would make up being another ethnicity for a joke. The response that used to sting a lot, to which now I have become pretty numb to is when other Filipinxs hear my answer, look at me strangely and say "Noo, you're not. You're lying. You're too light to be Filipinx. You must be Korean or Japanese or Chinese. I think you're lying" (Insert unimpressed face here.) I used to feel pretty offended at the response of my own people thinking that I'm a liar, as if I needed to look a certain way to be of that ethnic group. Now, it's sadly something that I'm used to and pretty much anticipate as a regular response.
As a kid of the diaspora, this response and everything that comes with it makes you really question your ties to your own culture but also that you also need to be tied to the Western culture. As kids of immigrants we don't realize that we are doing a very interesting balancing act of learning and holding onto both cultures that the last thing we need to hear is "but where are you really from?"
You can learn about your ethnic culture as much as you can, but it will never truly compare to someone who has grown up in that culture, in that country because your experiences are different. That doesn't make you less of your ethnicity at all, it just makes for a different experience, which is why asking someone where they're really from when they were born in North America is a loaded question. We don't share in that experience of being from our "motherland" as someone else, but it's like being an in-between. We're holding and being moulded by two different cultures, so is it really fair to ask a POC where they're really from if they're born and raised in the same country as you?