Where I’m From (and Memories of My Badass Asian-American Friends in High School)
The question of where are you from? Has become more layered and complicated for me since I moved to Spain from America over two years ago. I remember one time in America, a Black woman I didn’t know asked me that question and she could tell that I was thinking about how to answer and she followed up with, “You know what I’m asking.” She was with my friends so I knew it wasn’t coming from a place of hostility. My level of belonging-ness wasn’t being questioned. My American-ness wasn’t being tested. Korea, I answered. I was born in Korea.
Here in Spain I also know what they mean. Back when my Spanish was much worse I would struggle to get thru the whole born in Korea but raised in America and lived in NY thing and I would just jump to “Soy Coreano-Americano” or “Soy de Nueva York.” Except a lot of people would interpret the former as me saying that I was mixed with Korean and American. The hyphenated identity thing is mostly American and confusing to non-Americans. Mixed with what tho? I imagine that they imagined the American part to mean white like most people when they hear American. But c’mon, I don’t look mixed at all.
Now that my Spanish has improved I can take them thru the steps of my identity. To the Koreans here tho I am simply American. To others I am a mix of American and Korean but mostly New Yorker. And relax you native New Yorkers who were simply born in a city as if you had a choice in the matter and who are about be up in arms about me, someone who was not born in NYC, using that term, especially those of you who don’t live in New York anymore.
I’ve often thought some of the hardcore believers of only people born in New York could claim being a New Yorker shared a lot with those who claim that immigrants are forever foreign invaders. I know the damage that a lot of gentrifiers have caused to the city. But I also know that some of the worst people in the current U.S. government, causing havoc to the world, were born and raised in New York. So have a seat. On a dirty park bench.
My bad. Where were we? Right. I know people here in Valencia, Spain who were born here and have spent their whole lives here. And maybe will die here. So for them that question of where are you from is much easier. And I admittedly have made the mistake of making assumptions about people here of Latin American descent. I have asked something about say Colombia and they’ll respond, “I don’t…