You are asked: “Where are you really from? is all too common in the AAPI community. It’s time to flip the script.
By Jo-Ann Yoo and Curtis S. Chin
More than 125,000 Asian Americans live in Seattle, and according to the U.S. Census, a record 22 million Asian Americans have their roots in more than 20 countries in East and South Asia. -East and Indian subcontinent. Yet when we are inevitably asked the question “where are you really from?” “Seattle” or “Portland” or “Houston” or “Alexandria, Virginia” never seem to satisfy.
While this is a seemingly innocent question, asking where an Asian American is from can be taken as assuming that the answer cannot be uniquely America. This can be interpreted as assuming that we are less American than our non-Asian friends and colleagues.
This “other” has led to the current anti-Asian hate crime crisis.
From March 2020 to September 2021, Stop AAPI Hate recorded 10,370 hate incidents against members of AAPI communities. Seattle is by no means an exception to this wave of hatred that has gripped the Asian and Pacific Islander American (AAPI) community. The Seattle Police Department reported 87 bias / hate crimes from January 2020 through March 2021.
Combating anti-Asian hatred requires combating the patterns of otherness and exoticism of Asian-American communities.
That’s why the Asian American Federation launched the “I Really Come From” campaign. We have partnered with AAPI artists, leaders and storytellers to share their stories of belonging in the American cities where they are from. The campaign aims to demystify the assumptions that are often shrouded in the ‘Where are you really from? Question by presenting the stories and lives of Asian Americans in the places they call home.
Artist-storyteller partnerships have resulted in the creation of unique travel posters depicting American cities through the personal goals of our AAPI storytellers. One of the posters portrays Seattle through the eyes of our favorite Olympic gold medalist speed skater, Apolo Ohno.
For Apolo, the house is his father’s hair salon that he has operated in Belltown for over 40 years; the house receives Korean food at Federal Way; the home is surrounded by the natural beauty of the Cascade Mountains, the Olympics and Puget Sound.
With this campaign, we aim to help other Asian Americans take pride in where they come from, no matter what that means to each member of our community.
We hope this reminds them of the connections they have to the places they come from and the cultures that shape them.
For our non-Asian friends and neighbors, we hope this campaign will change the narratives and attitudes that cloud the way you see us. The next time you think about asking an Asian American where they’re from, we want you to ask yourself three questions before you speak.
First of all, would you ask a white person the same question?
Second, why do you want to know? Are you just curious? Or are you curious because you assume they’re not from here?
And finally, how could you better formulate or contextualize it?
To stop the tide of anti-Asian violence, we must build a culture that recognizes the deeply personal and uniquely American experiences of Asian Americans. Through art, storytelling, and learning each other’s intricate connections to the places we feel at home, we can shift perceptions and develop the empathy needed to disrupt the deep-rooted xenophobia and racism that have harmed our AAPI communities.
Jo-Ann Yoo is the executive director of the Asian American Federation. Curtis S. Chin is a member of the Asian American Federation Advisory Board and a former United States Ambassador to the Asian Development Bank. Follow them on @AAFederation and @CurtisSChin.