There’s this comic here on The Toast, which is all displayed in graphics, so it’s tricky to excerpt. In “What Would the Yellow Ranger Do?”, Shing Yin Khor shows us what it means to be asked “Where Are You From?” in various contexts. And then we get to this part:
My husband is a tall white man, of Italian, German and Irish ancestry.
No one asks where he’s from, and if they do, the conversation ends when he says “State College, Pennsylvania” or “Los Angeles.”
“It’s just a question. It’s harmless,” he says.
It’s a harmless question if you look sufficiently un-exotic compared to your surroundings that you can answer with “State College, Pennsylvania” and not get any more scrutiny.
If you live in a place where you’re the exotic one—regardless of how long you’ve actually lived there, even if your family’s been there since well before you were born—then you soon figure out just how loaded a question that is. If it is impossible to exist as a tall, blue-eyed American without being treated like a fucking zoo exhibit whenever you walk out the front door of your house in whatever far-flung locale you currently inhabit, then you come to realize that the “harmless” question is tied up with a lot of baggage, and some of those bags are filled with toxic waste.
(Now picture being treated like that in the country you call home.)