Where are you from?? For a long time this question has made my stomach tighten, upset me in some way and many times made me feel like a foreigner in my own country. While living in the U.S. when non-Latinos, especially those of European descent asked me where I was from, I told them I was born in the U.S. “Really?” They gave me a skeptical look and their next question never failed. “Well, where are your parents from?” I would answer “Mexico”, which would usually cause them to laugh a bit and react as if they had caught me trying to lie about my identity. WTF? First of all, I am very proud of my Mexican culture and if I wasn’t it would be really hard to try and hide it since my skin is a beautiful shade of BROWN!

With time I figured two can play that game, cause everybody knows only natives can really claim to originally be from the U.S. and don’t even get me started on how California used to be part of Mexico until late 184Os! But then they had the nerve to get offended when I also attempted to identify their European ancestors and asked where their parents or grandparents were from. They gave me a how-dare-you-question-ME-about-my-ethnicity look. This reaction never failed to make me laugh…hahaha ;)

I don’t know why I thought I would never hear this question again once I left the U.S. and traveled in Latin America. I guess I thought having brown skin and speaking Spanish would help me, as Chicano comedian George Lopez jokingly says to “blend in” and avoid getting questioned about my identity, but boy was I wrong. Since I started my trip almost 10 months ago I have been asked this exact question hundreds of times!

Of course, most travelers I meet just wanna know where I am from because we just met and they are curious. Locals wanna know because it is obvious to them by the way I dress or speak that I am a traveler visiting their country. But no matter who asks their reaction is always the same when I tell them I’m a U.S. citizen.

Where am I from? California. But you speak Spanish!? They also mean although hardly ever say it, but you look Latina!? Yes, because my parents are Mexican. Huh!? I was born in the U.S., my parents are Mexican and I was raised in Mexico until the age of 11 when we moved back to California. Really? Yup, I am a Chicana with dual U.S.-Mexican citizenship ;) By the way, I have met many other U.S. citizens whose parents decided to raise them in Mexico for different reasons, some never came back to the U.S.

Seriously though, I never understand their surprised reaction. Are people really not aware of our existence?? I mean, the Pew Hispanic Center reported over 30 million of U.S. born Latinos back in 2009!! I find it hard to believe millions of us can go unnoticed by the rest of the world, don’t you?

Well if you didn’t know, now you know. Yes I am on a mission! Lately I just give everyone the same answer, ‘I’m from California’, not caring too much for their reaction or the situation I am in. I’m glad this question, even if it hasn’t gotten easier to answer, doesn’t annoy me or trigger as many negative feelings anymore. Now I take it as an opportunity to educate other travelers on Latinos like myself who are born in the U.S. everyday. I figure I might be opening doors for other Chican@ backpackers who are planning to travel around the world someday, even though I can assure you I’m not the first one!

I am enjoying the art of breaking down my simple yet complex identity to others. I exist in the borderlands, never quite fitting here nor there. Yes, I am a U.S. citizen with Mexican parents, a.k.a. Chicana with dual citizenship who was raised in Mexico and when not traveling around the world lives somewhere in California. Get it? Got it? Good! J


Matt | ExpertVagabond said... [Reply to comment]

Great post! I was traveling with a buddy for a while who was in the same situation. His parents are Mexican, but he was raised in the US. I got to watch the reactions of people when he answered these same questions, it was funny.

His Spanish (while better than mine) isn't the greatest either, which made it even more entertaining... "You're Latino and can't speak Spanish!??!"


Superxicana said... [Reply to comment]

That's exactly what we go through each time! It can be a bit annoying sometimes, but mostly it is just funny to see ppl's confused faces ;) I like having the opportunity to educate ppl on our existence hahaha =)

Viri said... [Reply to comment]

Wow prima. It's weird how it's the complete opposite for me. Because i'm lighter in color, they assume i'm 'white' and when i speak spanish or even hint that i am mexican, they act like i've betrayed their culture when in fact it's them for thinking that your skin color is a way to pinpoint your race.

Superxicana said... [Reply to comment]

@ViriPrima, you are the second person to tell me that because you are light skinned you get confused as ¨white¨...Latinos come in all colors...our great grandfather was very light skinned & had blue eyes!!

Dina VagabondQuest said... [Reply to comment]

To be honest I didn't know so much about Latinos in the US before traveling. I didn't know many Latinos, inside or outside the US, before. I certainly enjoyed your story about your origin. It must be annoying to get "that reaction" in your own country. But I think you should love the curiosity from people from faraway land, they (or we, since I'm one of them) don't know much about it, and fascinated about it. It's a great thing. And you have a great position to tell it to the world :)

I never expect people to know that my grand-grandparents are from China, but later generations are in Indonesia. Speaking only Indonesian, not Chinese. Oh, and English (somewhat now). Most people guess I'm from China or Philippines. Canadian passport user, but I don't even bother telling people I'm from Canada anymore to answer the popular "where are you from". Canada is not what they are asking for, Indonesia already puzzle them enough, but it's usually a great conversation starter :)

Superxicana said... [Reply to comment]

@Dina VagabondQuest Thank you for sharing your story...I have come to find there are a lot of us in the world who exist in many worlds at once...as one of my friends said after reading my post "now I realize we are all sons/daughters of the earth, you are from here and from everywhere" GO DINA!!!

Shawn said... [Reply to comment]

Jajajjaja! For real - I hate that question! Please allow me to box myself so that you don't have to pay attention to the complexities of history and identity.

My new strategy is "I was from Idaho, Costa Rica, Spain and California - Now I'm from Oaxaca."

Obviously my answer doesn't simplify anybody's world. And consequently the response "You're Spanish is good" demonstrates that they were paying more attention to how I spoke than to what I said and technically didn't actually listen.

I'm fond of saying I'm human if they ask for clarification. :)

Superxicana said... [Reply to comment]

@Shawnhahaha I can totally picture that happening to you ;) There are so many of us who don't quite just fit into a box and I love it!! We are all human and part of this wonderful world, as corny as it might sound =)

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