Editor’s note: This week, we were deeply saddened by the shootings in Atlanta that left eight people dead, including six women of Asian descent. Google is a proud supporter of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, and we stand with them in the fight against hatred. In this post, Eva Tsai, Director, Marketing Analytics and Operations, shares her personal experiences and reflections on racism and discrimination as an Asian American.
When a stranger asks you where you’re from, the question is often not as simple as it seems. As an Asian American, when someone asks me that question, I run through a quick mental calculation to figure out what they really mean.
Some people just use it as an innocuous way to start a conversation. Others, however, have an underlying assumption: To them, someone like me can never truly be an American. They’re really asking, “Which foreign country are you really from?”
Years ago, in the Houston airport, a white man in a suit decided to single me out. I was the only Asian person in sight. “Where are you from?” he shouted across the packed airport train car. I had just finished a grueling week of business travel and meetings, and I just wanted to be left alone. Despite my silence, the man continued asking the question, with increasing exasperation. Soon, he started to cycle through different Asian languages, intertwined with increasingly loud and slow English, assuming I was a foreigner. “Are you Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese … what are you?” he asked.
The tension in the air was palpable, until someone else spoke up. “How about American?” a white woman with purple hair yelled. “She is American, period!” Her answer stunned the man into silence. A stranger’s curiosity to know the origin of my Asianness does not trump my privacy. And everyone should be able to feel like they belong, instead of feeling “othered” by questions like that.