“Ok, But Where Are You Really From?”

This attempt at comedy highlights an experience that can be wounding for some. I share this video because it reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend who would frequently experience similar lines of questioning while interacting with others.

For this person, who was born and raised in the United States, it was as if responding by mentioning the state, hometown, or both just wasn’t enough when recalling one of those experiences.

“Ok, but where are you really from?”

In this next video, Diversity trainer Dr. Leeno Karumanchery shares some of his experiences with being encountered with the question, as well as the development of how his responses to being asked this question have changed over time.


Have you ever experienced this situation? What happens to you when you are asked, and how do you respond?

Are you someone who doesn’t have to encounter this situation in your lived experience? What was it like for you to watch these videos? Have you ever asked someone where they were from in this way?


From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins, MSW



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Written by

I’m a Social Justice Educator and Aspiring Humanitarian who is interested in conflict resolution, improving intergroup relations, and building more equitable and inclusive communities.

“Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian” is my blog, where I write about issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice. By exploring social identities through written word, film & video, and other forms of media, I hope to continue to expand and enrich conversations about social issues that face our society, and to find ways to take social action while encouraging others to do so as well in their own ways.

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10 Responses

  1. Neitcha Thomsen says:

    Loved it! I moved to Guadalajara, Mexico when I was 10 years old. Since I was put into all Spanish speaking schools, I quickly became fluent in Spanish to the point I no longer had an accent. I am very fair, blond hair and blue eyes. After moving back to the USA I got into work as a Spanish interpreter as an adult in the school system. Parents would speak to me on the phone (in spanish) and when they came into the school and met me in person you could see “that look” on their face. Sometimes they will ask “where are you from” and sometimes not. Sometimes I’ll explain or other times I will say “Decatur, Illinois” and they just look confused. I experienced this as a child in Mexico too in the schools…usually from the adults and it would make me feel uncomfortable and out of place since I adapted quickly to the culture and felt like I belonged there. Thanks for sharing the videos.
    Neitcha Thomsen

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the videos Neitcha! Thanks for sharing your story. I hope you come back to comment on future notes. From growing up in Mexico and moving back to the US in your adult life, have your experiences impacted the way you approach people who are seen as different in communities or settings in which you might be in the majority group? If so, in what ways?

  2. Hey, Relando—Nice post! This is not my experience, but that of my friend:

    John was born in the Czeck Republic and lived there until he was ten. When he moved here, he had an accent, and the kids in our school would ask him, “Where you from? You’re not from here.” When he’d go back to the Czeck Republic over the summers to visit family, he’d meet people and they’d ask, “You’re dressed like an American. Where you from? You’re not from here.” It was tough for him—he always said he felt displaced, no matter where he was.

    We got a little older and he—and we, really—recognized that people were trying to categorize him. Eventually he came up with, “I’m from a couple of places.” I liked that answer.

    Thanks again for posting!

  3. Kathy G says:

    These videos speak to my experience as the ask-er. I come from a family where cultural heritage is very important, part of the fabric of our story and perspective. I am German-American – although I am 5 generations removed from the immigrant.

    I am aware of the impact this question can have on others though, as Dr. Karumanchery says. My intent is to say hey, I want to know you and your background, your life experience. I think I’m getting better at understanding the timing of asking this question, but I still get nervous. Thanks for sharing these clips.

    • Thanks Kathy,

      I’m glad to hear a response from you as a person who has been the ask-er, because it’s a perspective that hasn’t been shared yet at this point in the stream. Sometimes, even with even our best of intentions we can result in a situation or incident isn’t the way we intend it to be. I am very glad to hear however, that you’re working on improving your approach to get the goals you want; learning new information without harming the other person(s).

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