I couldn't tell you the last time I was asked ‘Where are you from?’ because it happens so frequently that it's just part of the norm for me. Personally - I'm not offended by the question ‘Where are you from’ or ‘What's your nationality’ unless it's been asked in an aggressive manner. I will always say: ‘I was born here in Australia but my parents were born elsewhere’. And if the question extends to ‘where are your parents from?’ I simply tell them: ‘My mother was born in Zambia and my father in Poland’.
Now I can definitely recall a time I was asked ‘Where are you from’ because the man who asked it really pissed me off that day. I was doing some labouring work on a house in Hawthorn for a friend, I had been working on this house for a while now and always felt comfortable and at ease. One day three men who worked as bricklayers came to the site and one of these men was wearing a t-shirt with the Australian flag that read underneath 'If you don't like this flag, fuck off'. I instantly knew that I wasn't going to get along with him and kept to myself, as much as I could, for this was a job site and sadly I had no option but to work alongside him.
It was well and truly summertime with no cover from the sun - I had my shirt off and was working topless. I happen to have a few tattoos and the man with the ridiculous t-shirt noticed them and began conversation with me. ‘Cupla tattoos on ya mate!’ He said while greasing me off, continuing to work. I didn't give him much and just answered with a quick ‘yep’ and also continued the job I was working on. I remember he kept on looking over at me like he was thinking of what to say next. Then he finally asked me where I got them, what they meant and that he was surprised that they were so visible. I asked him why he was surprised at that and he said: ‘well you're quite dark aren't ya’. He then asked where I was from and I told him ‘I was born here in Melbourne’.
He didn't seem to happy with my response, so then he then asked ‘Are your parents Australian?’ Now this is when this question gets under my skin; I feel like I'm being interrogated, and that this tone of questioning is a sure-fire sign that the person asking the question is identifying me as the ‘other’. Why do I have to explain my heritage to this man? Why does it matter? Who is he to ask these questions as if he was a police officer and I the culprit. Why do I need to explain myself to make this man who can't accept the fact that I am of mixed-race?
After speaking to my mother about what happened I wished I had asked him ‘where are you from mate? I sure as hell know your ancestors weren't originally form this land!!! Who the hell are you to put me on the spot and question me!’
I continue to be grateful to live in this country and appreciate the multicultural reality of it, and at the same time I am painfully aware of the continuing injustices of colonialism faced by the First Nations peoples of this continent.