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'Where are you really from?' is a subtly racist question

It’s an awkward question people get pretty often if others have trouble placing their ethnicity. But is it offensive, or even racist? Christine Estima says yes.

'The only culture I’ve ever known is Canadian, but because I have thick eyebrows, olive skin and other Mediterranean features, my qualifications, personality and intelligence are never as important as my “fiery Latina” look.'

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'The only culture I’ve ever known is Canadian, but because I have thick eyebrows, olive skin and other Mediterranean features, my qualifications, personality and intelligence are never as important as my “fiery Latina” look.'

The bane of my existence has been this dialogue:

“Where are you from?”

“Montreal.”

“No, where are you really from?”

Why does this chip away at my sense of self and national identity?

 When someone asks, “But where are you really from?” what they’re really saying is, “You’re not white, and you don’t adhere to my stringent idea of what constitutes a Canadian. So why are you here?” 

It’s a subtle form of racism that hides behind the banner of, “Oh, I’m just curious.” You’re not curious. You just refuse to accept minorities are part of Canada’s mosaic. 

Canada’s history is so steeped in multiculturalism and diversity, yet it’s amazing how the image of what a Canadian looks like doesn’t include me. I have been told time and time again that I’m not a real Canadian, and alternately that I have abandoned the culture people think I should belong to.  

One woman — a complete stranger, I might add — came up to me on the street and said, “You look like you’re from a race that hasn’t been invented yet.”  Good one! 

I’m of mixed heritage, half Portuguese and half Lebanese, with one great-grandfather who came from Syria. I was born and raised in Montreal, I speak English and French, I grew up ice skating and I know all the lyrics to The Log Driver’s Waltz. 

The only culture I’ve ever known is Canadian, but because I have thick eyebrows, olive skin and other Mediterranean features, my qualifications, personality and intelligence are never as important as my “fiery Latina” look. 

Eye roll.

I get it; you can’t place my ethno-cultural heritage. But when you ask me where I’m from, you need to accept the answer I give you. 

Because I’m from Montreal. 

If the only way you can interact with someone is by categorizing their ethnicity first, you are reducing complex human beings to the sum of their parts. And I refuse to buy into your binary rhetoric.

If you can’t figure out my ethnicity, here’s what you should do:

1) Don’t worry about it and go about your day.

So when someone asks me, “But where are you really from?” I reply, “I’m just as Canadian as any white person.” 

It brings their implied racism to the fore. Most importantly, it messes with their heads for my viewing pleasure.

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