Why I never really know how to answer ‘where are you from’?

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Image by loganclement (Flickr)

I get asked ‘where are you from?’ a lot, especially having moved from my country of birth to my husband’s homeland (Australia).

But I am never 100% sure how to answer that question.

Are they asking for which suburb I live in? Which city? Which country I was born in? Where I grew up? Which country my parents are from? Which country my ancestors came from? Which planet? Which languages I speak?

After some questioning, I’ve learnt all the above were implied at some point by ‘where are you from?’.

The question is predominantly directed at my race or nationality, and I am somewhat shocked by how many who cannot distinguish between the two.

In answer to my race, I am Chinese, or if you wish for a more accurate forensic anthropology term – Mongoloid.

In answer to my nationality, I am Singaporean.

The two are not related in any way besides the fact they make up a part of my identity. Singaporeans are not necessarily Chinese, and Chinese are not necessarily Singaporeans – in fact only 74.1% of Singapore’s population are Chinese.

However this is somewhat confusing when ‘Chinese’ refers to the citizens of China, therefore making ‘Chinese’ a nationality. Confused yet?

Yet in Singapore, I’ve been asked if I was American/British or grew up/educated overseas. Thanks to 12 years of Catholic semi-public missionary-run schooling, my speech has the distinct lack of a Singaporean accent. It is amusing to watch my countrymen’s eyes widen when I tell them I am as local as they are.

I suppose ‘where are you from?’ is marginally better than ‘what are you?’. I can think of several scathing answers to that one.

Where am I from?

I am essentially a human being, born of my parents and their parents before them.

You shouldn’t be asking where I’m from.

You should ask where I’m going.