Cartoon: So Where Are You From?

This cartoon is by Nadine Scholtes and I.

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This, or something very like this, is an annoying experience a lot of Asian-Americans seem to have. In a TV interview, Grace Kao, a sociology professor at Yale, explained:

The first question is, you know, where are you from? And for someone like me, I’m chinese-american. Of course the expectation is I say China, Hong Kong, Taiwan or something, but if I say San Francisco, you know, the next question will be, no, really, where are you really from?

And so I — you know, I have to somehow get to Asia because the person asking me the question will not be satisfied until I get to Asia. The other question that will come up is where did you learn to speak English so well?

Now these things seem like they’re minor and just sort of from a place of curiosity, but what they point to is someone like me could never really actually be American, I must be from somewhere else and that I have to sort of help the person who was asking me these questions place me. That sort of establishes us as foreign.

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Nadine did her usual terrific job with expressions. And I really like that dress pattern she drew (that’s cartoonistese for, “I’m planning to swipe that dress pattern she drew”).

I’m also amused by the drawing of me Nadine did for the kicker gag, because Nadine (who lives in Luxembourg) has never met me, and I’m not sure that she’s ever seen a photo of me – I suspect she got her (accurate!) impression of what I look like from the kicker panels me and Becky have drawn me in over the years. Having me holding a drink with a slice of lime on the edge was entirely Nadine’s idea.

(Well, accurate except that my beard is much grayer now. As Ruth in The Pirates Of Penzance said, “it gradually got so.”)

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TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON

This cartoon has four panels. Each of the panels shows the same two youngish (20s or maybe 30s) women chatting at an outdoor party (there are lights strung in the air, and people milling about in the background). Both women are holding drinks. The sky is dark blue with stars faintly showing, indicating early evening.

The first woman is white. She’s wearing a red blouse, glasses, and has fashionably-cut straight hair, a bit long than shoulder length, with bangs. She’s holding a martini glass. Let’s call her “Glasses.”

The second woman looks like she has south Asian heritage. Her hair, also straight and fashionably cut, is parted on one side and ends an inch above her shoulders. She’s wearing a purple dress with a pattern of off-white flecks, and is carrying a brown saddlebag style purse over one shoulder. She’s drinking something out of a plain glass. Let’s call her “Dress.”

PANEL 1

Both women smile as they chat.

GLASSES: So where are you from?

DRESS: New York.

PANEL 2

Glasses, still smiling and maybe laughing a little, waves one hand in a dismissive manner. Dress is looking away, in a “can I get out of this conversation politely” sort of way.

GLASSES: No, where are you really from?

DRESS: Brooklyn. Look, just because I’m Asian doesn’t mean I’m not from America.

PANEL 3

An awkward moment. Both women take a sip from their drinks; Glasses looks away a bit, muttering.

GLASSES (small): Oh, right. Sorry…

PANEL 4

Smiling big again, Glasses rallies and asks Dress another question. Dress facepalms.

GLASSES: So where’d you learn to speak English so well?

TINY KICKER PANEL UNDER THE CARTOON

Barry the cartoonist, looking awkward and holding a drink with a slice of lime on the edge of the glass, is being talked at by Glasses, who has an aggrieved expression.

GLASSES: Why is she offended? It was a compliment.

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So Where Are You From? | Patreon

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3 Responses to Cartoon: So Where Are You From?

  1. 1
    Steff says:

    Yes! So aggravating. I have a friend this happened to all the time. It got to the point where I wanted to say,”where are you from? No really. England, Scotland, eastern Europe? I simply MUST know what kind of Caucasian you are!”

  2. 2
    Avvaaa says:

    Reminds me of this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crAv5ttax2I, particularly Steff’s point about retaliating with asking about the white guy’s heritage.

    Unfortunately many cis white men are all too happy to rant on about their European heritage… ughhh

  3. 3
    RonF says:

    Out here in Chicago it’s a common topic to ask someone who looks white what their heritage is. Irish, Slovak, Pole, Czech, Lithuanian, German, Italian, etc., etc. All distinct cultures that they’re happy to share (although intermarriage between Poles and Germans can be difficult …).

    Avvaaa:

    Reminds me of this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crAv5ttax2I, particularly Steff’s point about retaliating with asking about the white guy’s heritage.

    Unfortunately many cis white men are all too happy to rant on about their European heritage… ughhh

    Why is it unfortunate? Why “ughhh”? Presuming from the context of the first sentence that the white person was asked; it would be odd to start a conversation talking about your heritage.

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