‘Where are you really from?’

Where are you from?

‘I am from Auckland’

‘No…I mean where are you REALLY from?’

‘Glen Eden’

‘No…I mean where are your ancestors from?’

It turns out that my ancestors are quite important to a lot of people ever since I came to New Zealand about 11 years ago. I never knew that it is such a great conversation starter either. This line of conversation gets quite interesting when you ask the same question back, especially if the person is White. They get very offended I can tell you that now. What is it with these people that are so obsessed with my ancestors’ lineage but refuse to tell me about their ancestors in exchange?

Before I came to New Zealand, we were taught stereotypically that first world countries (which almost exclusively refers to western civilisations) such as New Zealand are very liberal and open, which I automatically translate to everyone treats everyone equally despite their differences. That is still true to a certain extent, but I have never realised what inequality means until I came to New Zealand.

Life feels great here if no one asks you ‘do you speak English?’ at a bus stop; The Kapiti ice cream in my hand tastes better if no one yells at me to ‘eff back to China’ when I am standing on the pavement licking it; Rotorua will even smell great despite the sulfur if you don’t assume that I am a high-achiever in school just because I am Asian (I do, however, have a Masters degree).

My parents worry that since I have been living in New Zealand for so long, I would have forgotten my cultural roots, my native languages, and my ability to practice filial piety. Never have I felt more Asian than I did when I was in Malaysia. I am constantly reminded by others around me that I am an Asian guy. Examples ranging from people telling me that I speak good English for an Asian person; I write adequately as an Asian; and the assumption that I somehow know all the Asian people within a 10 kilometers radius from where I am standing at.

When I first encounter these incidents, I have no idea how to deal with them because I have never ever experienced anything like these until I came to New Zealand. Despite coming from a third world country where inequalities are reproducing and multiplying on a daily basis, we were taught to mind our own business and to respect differences. This is also why we were taught three different languages at school compulsorily since we were young so that we could understand each other better. I feel like New Zealand could start with Te Reo. Just saying.

I guess I will tell you now. My ancestors are from a small village in the Chinese province. I am from Malaysia and I think I am REALLY from New Zealand now. I can show you my Permanent Resident Visa if you want. I really don’t mind if that helps you to sleep at night.

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