Growing up in Australia, the question 'Where are you From?' is something I've been asked my entire life. I think the most recent time was by a customer at work. I replied politely to the woman, who then turned to her daughter and said: 'Sweetie, how do you say thank you in Chinese?'—amazing. To be honest, I don't mind being asked so much. Just as long as it is asked with good intention, and not used as some sort of strange icebreaker. That's a lot less rude than when people try to guess my background. Playing Fifty Shades of Brown they ask: 'Filipino?'; 'Cambodian?'; 'Vietnamese?', 'Wait, wait, I know: Malaysian - surely!'.
I understand the curiosity. You see a name like mine and don't expect me to speak English, let alone have a thick Australian accent. I once asked my mother why I was never given an 'English' name, and she said it was because she only knew movie star names; I really don't see myself as a Brad, George or Keanu - Aung. Bless you Mum.
'Where are you from?' is a reminder that I am different, and not necessarily in a good way. Growing up in predominantly white neighbourhoods, as the son of Burmese immigrants, I have a unique perspective that includes both cultures. Yet, at times I struggle with my identity and sense of where I belong. I'm a walking 'Year 12 essay': the kid who was made fun of for his 'weird food', who is asked, years later, if he knows 'how to make a good stir-fry' (I do, but that's not the point). He was always the only Asian in his friendship circle, and yet is seen as a foreigner whenever he goes back 'to where he came from'; despite having a very 'Burmese' name (think the 'Bort' name plate scene in The Simpsons). He is told by his family friends that he should get an Asian girlfriend, but also gets hit on by girls who secretly want to fill some strange 'Oriental Agenda'. 'You're Burmese? Cool, I'm learning Indonesian in my Asian Studies course'... I'm sure Freud would have something to say about that.
But look, it's not all negative. The question is sometimes an opportunity to educate; it gives me the chance to talk about Myanmar/Burma, its culture, rich history and the food—holy shit, the food! Asia is more than just Kung Fu movies, Yum Cha and Dance Dance Revolution. We are more than the awkward nerds and the comic relief we are portrayed to be in modern media. So, if we ever meet, get to know me first and find some common interests. I've accepted I am different, but I don't speak for other People of Colour. Have some sympathy and sensitivity, and please don't use that question as a social crutch. 'Where are you from?' is not ideal, but hey we have to start somewhere.