“Where are You From?”

Photo courtesy of Mario Fernandez.

In this increasingly interconnected world, you are more likely than ever to meet someone from a different country. That is normally something to be excited about, and in the past, it truly was a wonderful experience to meet someone completely different than you.

Unfortunately, in today’s United States, an increasingly xenophobic and ultra-nationalist country, being from a different country, or just having a multinational background, is becoming controversial. I cannot speak for all immigrants, but I can speak for myself and my experiences through discussing the question, “where are you from?

This is normally a very innocent question, a conversation starter; at least, that’s how people that live in their own country view this question. However, the question can bring many different emotions to someone that is not a native.

This question makes me think of home, as it should, but it also reminds me that my home is no longer one I can call my own – it reminds me that I had to flee. It also reminds me that I was lucky to flee when I did. Moreover, I am reminded that this country is not my real home, it is my adoptive home. I am reminded that I truly am without a country of my own.

Before Trump’s election, before racists were emboldened by his victory, I would proudly claim to be Venezuelan when asked that question. Now when I am asked that question, I change my answer depending on who asks. If I do not know this person, I normally hide my background, for fear that they will hurl racist slurs at me, or will order me to return to my country.

I do not mean to burst their bigoted bubble, but I will not be leaving “their” country because I have as much of a right to be here as they do, even if the culture of this country clashes with my own. Many times, when asked this question, people create stereotypes and opinions based on the answer received. Most of the time, it is the ignorant racists that create these stereotypes.

If I were to give them the real answer, they could immediately create a misconception about me, fed by the idiotic things that Trump says, and will believe that I am a “bad hombre,” and that my country did not “send their best.”

To avoid that, I tell them I am from Knoxville, Tennessee, in the heartland of the United States. I am lucky enough to appear white enough that most people will just see me as Southern European, and they stop asking. Many times, people follow up with the question of where are you really from?” As if unnecessarily trying to dig up an answer they will not like in order to give them a reason to hate me.

In a country that claims to be the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” I should be free to bravely say I am Venezuelan, regardless who asks. I should not have to hide my background.

I should not have to worry why people are asking me where I am from, and although I do not like it here, I will not leave just because some bigoted orange will categorize me as any other Latino immigrant and claim I am a “bad hombre.”

I am here to stay until I decide that I will leave, and if you don’t like it, just leave.