My name is Miguel Jones, and I am an Asian-Canadian with proud roots from rural Québec (Qc), and Newfoundland & Labrador (NL). It is important to note that both rural Qc and NL are composed of a population that is primarily Caucasian, which means someone like me will often be the only visible minority in the room. In these non-diverse rooms, I am far too often approached by a stranger who wants to know my “origin”, which leads to the “where are you really from?” conversation.
One conversation I would like to share happened a few summers ago at a coffee shop in Newfoundland. While standing in line to place my order, my partner noticed a middle-aged Caucasian man staring at me (which happens a lot), and for simplicity, we will call him Bob. Then I proceeded to turn around to confirm Bob was indeed staring at me, I politely asked Bob “Is there anything I can help you with?”, Bob said, “No thank you”. After receiving my food, Bob decided to approach me at my table to engage in a dialogue that went like this:
“So… where are you from?” says Bob.
“Oh, I am from Corner Brook, NL” I said.
Bob responded by giving me a look of unbearable discomforting confusion, which led him to be more assertive with his questions.
“Oh no, I mean where are you really from?” says Bob
“I grew up here (Corner Brook, NL)” I said.
“No, I mean where are you really from?!” says Bob.
At this point in the conversation, Bob is not satisfied with my answers to his questions, and I am starting to get the hint this conversation is about my ethnicity, so I give him the answer he is prying for.
“I was born in Vietnam” I said.
“Oh yes, I knew you couldn’t be from here. Me, I am from the up the coast born and raised right here in Newfoundland” Bob says.
Bob now seemed satisfied with my answers to his questions, he then walked back to his table to finish his coffee. It would be an understatement to say this conversation ruined my breakfast. These interrogations frustrate me because I have called Newfoundland home for almost 16 years, but regardless I am still treated like a foreigner.
From the outside, this conversation can be portrayed as harmless. It may seem as though people are just genuinely curious about me, and that I am blowing this out of proportion. However, I feel it is important to highlight that these redundant and persistent questions about my identity shake me to the core of who I am and leaves me in a perpetual state of insecurity regarding my sense of belonging.
It is hard to put into words how one conversation can hurt somebody. While Bob was enjoying his coffee with his questions answered, I am left sitting there shattered and questioning who I am and if I belong here. Bob says, “Oh yes, I knew you couldn’t be from here”, it is comments like these that send tremors to the foundation of who I am as a person.
Bob says “Me, I am from the up the coast born and raised right here in Newfoundland”, this segment of the conversation adequately portrays most people’s tendency to speak about their origins after they find out that I was born in another country. The tricky thing here is that a person’s birthplace is often confounded with their origins - because for me, although I was born in Vietnam, I was raised and belong to a Canadian family.
Most people self-identify with a certain region and live life proud of where they came from and never really question it, but for me, it is a constant battle between myself and society to figure out where I belong.
Being a visible minority is something I have grown up with my entire life, and it is something I am very proud of. However, I would be lying if I said I never thought it’d be a lot easier if I were Caucasian at some point in my life. The mere fact that I have had these thoughts speaks volumes to how big of a problem it is.
We as a people need to truly accept all ethnicities and stop creating this divide between the Caucasian and non-Caucasian populations. A few weeks ago, one of my friends asked me “What if I am truly interested in someone’s heritage, can I ask?”, and the simple answer is yes, but I feel it is important to keep your intentions genuine and to accept whatever answers are given to them.
Conversations with people like Bob continue to affect me deeply, but I will continue to persevere through as I always have! To truthfully answer Bob’s question of “Where are you really from?” I was adopted in Vietnam as a baby, I spent half my childhood in Qc, and the second half in NL. A more appropriate question would be “Where do you call home?”, and I would say though a lot of my family is from Qc and I am very proud of my French-Canadian roots, I do consider NL to be home, and therefore I self-identify as a proud Newfoundlander.