“Where are you from?”
I hear it often enough. My eyes are almond and my skin is toffee. My hair is veiled and my eyes are lowered. I’m a minority within a sea of majority.
I answer passively, “Chicago.”
“No.” They answer back defiantly, as if they have any concept of knowing me. “I mean, where are you from?”
And there it is, the unnecessary emphasis. As if my foreign look impedes on my ability to understand the question.
I answer back, slightly annoyed, “I just told you. I’m from Chicago, Illinois.”
“ No, no!”, exasperated now, “I mean, like, where is your family from?”
“Oh!” I respond, as if this question changes everything and I am suddenly enlightened. Their face always lights up with excitement as if they are proud they have successfully pegged me as some foreign immigrant. “My family is from Wisconsin.”
And again the face falls. Impatient now, “But where were you born?”
And the audacity of that question has always bothered me more than any other racist remark ever has. Because it implies that there is some list of requirements that I do not meet. It implies that I am the odd one out and do not deserve to be there. It implies that I have had some tragic upbringing and America is the setting of my success story. It implies that I am a stranger in my own country.
And if I’m honest and I again respond with Wisconsin, they won’t believe me. They will continue digging, asking about my parents, and my grandparents, and everyone they can think of until they have some reason of looking at me as anything other than an American citizen.
I’ve come to realize that how I look, my hijab, is not a symbol of modesty or self respect or even of Islam. No. My hijab is a thumb tack stuck in some preconceived map that makes me an immigrant to the only home I have ever known."