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Where are you from?

Living as a migrant in The Netherlands I often get this question “Where are you from?”. My reaction is always asking back to specify this question. Does the person want to know where I live in The Netherlands or my origin, where I come from? I am able to provide the answer.

Last week my daughter G told me her experience answering this question. One answer mentioning where she lives is not sufficient. My daughter feels she needs to explain where her parents are from because what she looks like, dark hair, Asian face features.
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And I am sure she is not the only one. There are many children of interracial marriages, descendants of migrants and third culture kids (kids of expats and diplomats) who are always confronted with this question. Some see this as tricky even offensive.

Curiosity is one of human’s basic traits. So people will never stop asking this question. I wonder though. The world is getting smaller and smaller. Migration caused by interracial marriages, wars, economy and politic situations mix the races more and more. In the near future, let’s say 50 years from now, people from mix races still have to answer this simple question “Where are you from?” with longer and variable answers such as the following:

  • I am Indonesian living in London and I was born in Melbourne because my Indonesian parents did their post graduate there.
  • I am Dutch living in Huissen, born in Arnhem. My mother is Indonesian, My father is Dutch from Italian, Swiss, Chinese, Indonesian and German origin. This is G’s anwers.
  • I am American born in Iowa. My parents were asylum seekers from Yugoslavia.

  • During vacation in foreign countries (not in The Netherlands) my family always gets this question. People are curious because all three of us are Asian looking with Italian family name and we speak Dutch to each other. I don’t find this question offensive though. It shows that people are interested and want to know.
    How sincere they want to know it is none of my business. I just provide the answer.

    54 thoughts on “Where are you from?

    1. Meskipun aku bukan anak hasil perkawinan campur, tapi tetap panjang kalau ditanya “Asalnya mana Den?”
      “Ibu dari Nganjuk, Bapak dari Jember, lahir di Jember, rumah orangtua di Situbondo, sekarang tinggal di Surabaya”🙂

    2. aj betul sifat ingin tahu ada di mana2..
      di dlm negri juga gitu, ada aja yg nggak percaya aku Batak, disangkaian Ambon, Padang, Arab, Jawa, ..
      bahkan krn suka ngomong punten aja masih ditanyain..
      so what gitu lho he..he..

    3. Yang di indonesia aja sering ditanya asalnya dari mana hehe, apalagi yg mix blood gitu mba Yo. Btw ini “kepo”ku juga hehe G bisa bahasa? Kalo orang ga tau memang mukanya G indonesia tapi kaya ada bulenya tapi tetep indonesia. Hehe😀

    4. Aku juga sering nih denger pertanyaan ini… Bosen juga jawabnya, tapi kayaknya akan terus sering ditanyain. Hehe… Dan kebanyakan nggak percaya kalo aku dari indonesia. Buntutnya harus jelasin lagi kalo nenek moyangnya dari cina. Haha

    5. Iya pertanyaan ini klasik banget dari dulu ya..
      Jangankan orangtua beda asal negara, yang masih beda suku di Indonesia saja, pertanyaan ini sering ditanyain.
      Ntar kalau engga dijelasin orangtua ‘orang mana’?
      Ujungnya malah di tebak tebak..

      • Kalo aku lihat dari cerita anakku ini karena kita kan tinggal dinegara yang penduduk aslinya kulit putih, jadi wajar orang sini tanya dia dari mana. Dan jawabannya bisa dua, tinggal dimana atau asal etnisnya dari mana.

        Di Indonesia ngga selalu kelihatan orang asal suku apa, makanya kadang tebak-tebak atau tanya langsung.

    6. It happened a lot, when I travel abroad. Only few people think I’m from Indonesia and most of the time they think I’m from the Philippines, USA, China (??!!), Thailand and of course India.

      Interestingly no one ask when I’m in Ireland. Not yet.

    7. Paling kocak kalo ditanya dari mana, saya antara pengen jawab saya aslinya dari mana atau saya baru saja datang dari mana.
      Kebetulan saya kerja di hotel dan masih terhitung baru, baru 4 bulan, sehingga masih banyak staff yg belum kenal apalagi mereka kan shiftnya berubah-ubah.
      Kalau ditanya, “Dari mana Mbak?”
      Jawaban saya, “Saya baru sampai dari rumah, saya tinggal di Nusa Dua. Kalau aslinya, Papa saya dari Manado, Mama saya Palu tapi mereka tinggal di Poso dan saya saat ini sudah menetap di Bali.”

    8. Pernah disangka orang Thailand dan orang FIlipina. Kalo di negara sendiri, banyak yang percaya aku keturunan Tionghoa langsung. Tapi sih tetep, dimana-mana akan selalu bilang “Aku orang Indonesia”…

    9. I am always caution with this question – I just don’t like it I don’t know why, if it’s asked by a friend over a Friday night bar then it’s probably alright but when it’s asked by a random stranger on the street I always ask back: WHY (is this any of your concern)?

      I have an American friend who is working at the hospital here in Copenhagen. Her parents are first generation immigrants from South Korea. She always get asked by her patients where she’s from, and answering America isn’t just enough. She totally got pissed when people asked again “No, where are you REALLY from?” No shit. She was born in the States and doesn’t speak Korean nor she had lived there.

      • My experience until now Dutchies ask this question politely. Some explain further why they want to know because of my name and my appearance. Mostly it stops after I answer I am Indonesia married to an Indo.

        Your American friend’s story is exactly like how G feels when she gets this question. She told me once, I feel Dutch cause I was born and live here all my life. Why do people want to know what my ethnic origin is, they can see it, can’t they?

    10. I used to get the American version of this question when I was still living there. The question was “Are you from the Philippines?” knowing most who asked probably didn’t even know where Indonesia is, I used to politely replied “Southeast Asia”.🙂 My son on the other hand would say “I’m half American and half Indonesian”.

    11. Betul mbak, saking dinamisnya hidup kadang ada yang tempat tinggalnya berubah-ubah bbrp tahun sekali, pindah kesana-kemari, aplg kalo udah attached sama satu daerah. Aku kalo ditanya di luar Bali, “Dari mana?” Pasti jawabnya, “Bali,” padahal KTP Jakarta😀 Temenku lebih unik lagi, dia jawabnya, “dari mana-mana.”😀

    12. Yang kasian Mika dunk mbak, ini anak, emaknya ada keturunan Arab/India ?? Hihihi, pdhl gak samsek … Btw G panjang jawabnya gitu jadi harus tahu sejarahnya yah

    13. G hebat amat jawabnya….
      Aku sering disangka ambon. Pernah pas ngajar di sebuah sekolah yg mostly pinoy..aku disangka pinoy dan ada ortu yg baru ngeh aku indonesia pas udah term akhir,trus bilang ‘OMG, teacher Joice, tau gitu aku ga capek2 ngomong English…hihihi

      Orang batak lebih ribet lg loh mba yo kalo nanya2 asal.panjang urusannya…istilahnya ‘martarombo’

    14. So far sih gue jarang banget ditanyain pertanyaan seperti itu ya disini, kecuali kalo lagi liburan outside of Australia. Anak2 gue juga so far blom perna ada yg nanya the originality of their root, tapi mereka tau bahwa mereka itu half Indonesian and half Australian born in England. Interesting ya how people are curious about our root/ethnic. Btw, I’m half Padang and half Menado 😀

      • Iya Ri. Biar gimana kalo ethnic features orang ngga sesuai dengan negara asalnya, orang akan tanya ya. Waktu gw masih kecil pertama kali gw ngeh bahwa di Afrika Selatan ada orang kulit putihnya, gw juga bingung loh🙂

    15. Here in Germany I dont get that question a lot, but when Im traveling with my husband I have we both have to answer to this question at least 2 a day! So we always have to say: I am from Brazil, he is from Germany, but we live in Germany…. always a long story. Im guessing when I have my kids if they look like me it will be the same as with your daughter. In Brazil we dont usually get that question, because our country is so big and mixed, that you never know when someone is a Brazilian or a foreigner.

      • Hi Allane, I have missed your comment here hence the late reply. Really? In Indonesia which is also a big country, this where are you from question is more common to ask. And people don’t get offended by it.

    16. My kids had the same experience, they always say they are Canadian from Toronto because that’s where they were born, and if someone asked what is their heritage, then they will answer the long version, mom from Indonesia – with mixed blood of Chinese, French, Italian and Greek and dad from Thailand – with mixed blood of Indonesian, Thai and Chinese. Especially in the French school people always want to know how are you related to the French language. I find that the North Americans are a bit tight-up about the question of “where are you from” as many people think it is rude to ask and discriminate people, the Asian and European are more relaxed about it.

    17. I remember once when I was younger and taking English classes in one of the institutions in jkt (forgot the name), everyone was asked to answer the question of “where are you from”. I was like: what does it mean? I was born and raised in jkt. I asked a question back, what do you mean maam? She wanted to know what is our heritage so I had to tell her the long version of mine as well🙂, I was a bit uncomfortable about it as it was a very awkward moment to explain your heritage back then. As a child of minority I felt like I had to explain myself to the class that I was not a native Indonesian. But I got over it.

    18. Kalo aku orang sering lgsg nembak, mba Yo.. “Orang Batak yah?” gitu…hihi.. Ga ada yg bisa nebak org Minahasa krn ga sesuai sama paradigma mereka klo org Minahasa putih-putih😀 hihi. Tar penjelasannya bakal panjang deh klo udah gitu..:D

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