Where do you come from?

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!”

Confused look.

“I was born at St John of God’s in Subiaco.  And was raised and went to school here in Perth.”

Surprised look.

“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?”


3 thoughts on “Where do you come from?”

  1. Something I’m all to familiar with. Dutch parents, born in Lesotho (Africa) but consider myself Australian. I’m taking that last comment on board – good one!

  2. I think it depends where you live. Also, these days people are less likely to think of “Chinese” in a derogatory way thanks to their fear of Middle-Eastern/Brown people post 9/11.
    People who “don’t get it” are usually older, ignorant or live in a vacuum.
    The other day, I had someone come up to me @the Perth art gallery after overhearing a conversation I had with a friend and said, “Oh I’d just like to say that it’s the first time I’ve heard an Asian speak with an Australian accent.”
    I asked her where she was from because I thought she was from the greenbelt in England, but turned out she’s lived in Perth her whole life.
    Just ask them where they’re from.
    Of course you might bump into people who think that Aborigines are also migrants from polynesia.
    Let’s hope the next generation are most used to the idea of pluralism and hybrid identities. It’s the future – look at Obama.

  3. Also, what I’m hoping for my own child is that she won’t have to say, “oh but I don’t speak Chinese,” just to justify her Australianness to others. I think most Australians now understand that most people speak more than one language.
    Though, the idea of being “Australian” is still limited to one-dimensional stereotypes. No thanks to *****&^*&^ like this woman.

    I sometimes give up explaining that I’m Australian.

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