At a function on the weekend, I got talking to an elderly lady. One of the first questions she asked me was “Where do you come from?”.
I used to get annoyed when I got this question, but now I prefer to surprise people. Being an Australian born Chinese (a banana as they say), there’s a few ways I can answer this question.
And so I replied, “I’m from Australia. I was actually born and raised in Australia!”
“I was born at St John of God’s in Subiaco. And was raised and went to school here in Perth.”
“But my parents are from Singapore. My ancestry is Chinese.”
“But I can’t speak any Cantonese or Mandarin.”
Confused look again.
Yep, although I may “look” Chinese and was raised with Chinese values, I consider myself 100% Australian. My parents lived in Singapore before they came to Australia, but my Dad was born in Malaysia, and lived in Hong Kong for some of his life. But I’m “Chinese” – so up my family tree somewhere must be people from China.
I guess it’s a loaded question – the “where do you come from?” It could mean, where were you born? Where did you grow up? Where are your ancestors from? Or what race are you?
It gets even more confusing when we travel overseas. In Rome last year, Wifey and I had to explain that we’re from Australia but we look Chinese. Sometimes people just don’t get that concept. The funniest experience though was conversing with someone in French when were in Italy. Yep, a Chinese raced Australian speaking French in Italy to a North African.
Today, I asked the kids whether they get that question at all, at school or elsewhere. They’re 2nd generation Australian born Chinese.
Miss 8 looks at me weirdly that shrugs and says no – no-one asks her that. I think the younger kids don’t really care – they’re more used to multi-culturalism. No – it’s not even that – I think the colour of your skin or how you look doesn’t even matter.
So I asked Miss 8 again, “What would you say if someone asked you ‘Where do you come from?'”.
She has that confused look on her face again, and replied “From Australia.. duhhh!”.
Then I thought – all the people in Australia. Unless you’re Aboriginal, we are only 221 years old – with an average generation of 25 years, you’d be at most an 8th or 9th generation Australian.. only if you are a convict descendant. Australia is pretty young.. nearly everyone would come from somewhere else.
Maybe in the future I should reply, “so where do YOU come from?”