What is your country of origin

origin: No answer owed

I only talk about my origins on my terms. Why does the where-do-you-come-from-question bother me?

I like to talk about my origins. I do this as a journalist, in social media and in my podcast, sometimes I also tell in small talk about my parents' "Asia snack bar" and recommend artists, directors and authors with an Asian background. But I'll talk about it on my terms. I decide when to reveal how many facets of myself. When I just want to be #from here and when I want to be more.

Where-do-you-ask-people-minds that I take this right. I can watch how their facial features harden, how they reach for the same justifications after my polite refusal to answer. They were just curious. You didn't mean it badly. You have Asian friends or vacation experiences and want to talk about them. One should still be able to ask. You're just paying attention.

These justifications come so reflexively and emotionally that I find it difficult to see anything behind them than an offended self-image. The questioners believe that they can tap into the knowledge of minorities at any time and do not have to take responsibility for the feelings they arouse.



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It's a tradition: for centuries missionaries, ethnologists and colonial rulers roamed the world, and when they were in a good mood, they didn't ask white people questions. According to their leaders, family structures and religions, according to their wealth, their knowledge of nature and medicine, according to their sexuality. They asked out of research interests, out of an interest in power and because they could. Those asked had to answer, in case of doubt by using force. The self-image of being able to ask non-white people the most intimate questions at any time lives on to this day. In the asylum procedure, abused and tortured people without psychological support should tell about their experience in detail. In everyday life, people are suddenly asked about sometimes traumatic experiences of racism, sometimes about violent family stories.

I hate this ignorance. People can imagine that flight and migration are not harmless issues. You know what's going on in the world. It would never occur to me to simply ask white Germans what their grandparents did in 1933 - just because I'm curious and it would certainly be interesting things to talk about. Conversely, I also expect that such politically charged questions will not just be asked of me. And if it does, then I owe no answer.

But I don't want to infer others from myself. I know people who respond to "Where are you from?" like to name the birthplace of their parents and grandparents and tell their family history. You may have had different experiences with your origins and this question. You may have less anger, fear and exclusion pain in you. Perhaps you were born abroad and you were right with your identity, or you were surrounded by people with similar biographies in your childhood and youth. It was different for me.

I don't care how the question was meant

Why am I so sensitive when I could be proud too? Why do I hold grudges against people who are curious? Who have no bad intentions? Why can't I just relax? Be more relaxed, more self-deprecating? Nod and smile?

I thought about it for a long time and didn't find the fault with myself. The fact that the question where do you come from always upsets me has nothing to do with my personal sensitivity. It has to do with the fact that the answer is not just "Vietnam". It includes war, violence, flight and trauma. These are not easy topics for me. And it has to do with the fact that the very question makes me a stranger and that I was laughed at, excluded and beaten up for being a stranger. For many years I could not be sure that I would be allowed to live in this country at all, instead I was afraid of deportations night after night. I wasn't just visually different - my being different was a threat to my existence.

I don't care how people meant the question. When I'm asked where I'm from at work, on the train or at parties, it hurts. Then I think of violence and deportation. I then take the question and my difference home with me, often alone. I don't want to make a scene or get caught up in discussions in which I - the injured person - end up being the unobjective because I can't get any further with arguments.

Think of it like needle pricks: a prick hardly hurts, but getting stung every few days makes the skin sore. And nobody brings ointment. Nobody apologizes. Nobody asks what he or she can do for me. Instead, people complain about my pain, label it as incapable of discourse, and talk about how they meant it. That they are not racists. As if the moment was about her.

For those asking where are you from, this question is harmless. You ask them and have forgotten them a short time later. I never forgot her after a few seconds. No matter what I do, whether I rebel against the question or answer it stoically and allow negative memories - in the end I am the loser. That's why she bothers me.