I was born and raised in Albany, Ore., but this answer often seems unsatisfactory when strangers ask where I’m from. The city formerly known as the smelly spot on I-5 is apparently not exotic enough for some people who then try to think of a P.C. way to ask, “No…where are you actually from?”
To be fair, it’s been several years since anybody has actually said that to me, but this is still a common interaction. If the person seems nice, I’ll usually follow up quickly with, “but my parents are from Taiwan.”
If not, it’s fun to watch the other person squirm a bit, feigning ignorance about what he or she really wants to know.
Having lived in some pretty ethnically homogenous places kind of clouds up the issue, too. Being of Chinese and Taiwanese descent is certainly a part of my life. I speak Mandarin semi-fluently (just with the vocabulary of a 10-year-old), and most of my extended family lives in Taiwan, where I’ve visited 10 or so times (enough that I can’t really count without some serious vacation forensics that would surely make me miss my deadline this month).
And while I do cherish my heritage, in many ways I’m pretty damn white. I like most of the stuff from this list, and don’t have many Asian friends. Back in college, there always seemed to be a cultural gulf between the Asian international students and me that we could rarely bridge.
I’m sure many people I meet identify as a long-haired Asian guy or possibly “that Oriental fella,” but I’ve never identified myself primarily by my race. And in a high school that was 95% white, I was cognizant about my ethnic differences about as often as I felt like I was pretty similar to my schoolmates.
Now that I’m 30, I’m having more moments where I’m embarrassed about not being well-versed in my heritage. Though I never want my race to define me, sometimes I feel like I’ve been a bad ethnic ambassador in the non-diverse places I’ve lived.
Who knows if this is just my neurosis adding another area to think about or if this is the start of some history and genealogy research, but what I do know is I’ll always enjoy that moment of awkward when somebody asks where I’m from.
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