Where are you from?
When we go to the park sometimes I get to chatting with other parents or moms. My kids don’t look like the other kids and that always brings along the usual question, “Where are you from?” When a lady wearing a black burka starts talking to me I find it quite amazing how I can see her smile with her eyes.
Most of the time here in Sri Lanka when I say Peru, they understand Beirut and ask if I’m from Lebanon. My son has darker skin than me and dark curls so the possibility of being Lebanese does not surprise them. When I repeat Peru, South America they are usually at a complete loss.
I have been asked this question, “Where are you from” ever since I can remember.Depending on the place I am, the way I am asked and the reactions are always different.
The “where are you from” question started in Miami when I was 9 years old, but as soon as I could speak English the asking stopped for a while. It wasn’t long before I went back to Peru and my Limeño accent was gone, I was blond and white and looked like any other gringa visiting or living as an expat. Not only that, I went to an American School and spoke English all day so it wasn’t so much of a shock when every Peruvian that didn’t know me, asked the fated question.
“De que país es usted, señorita” I fondly remember having discussions with taxi drivers while showing them my ID and them arguing about how I was probably nationalized and not a “real” Peruvian.
For four years I lived in the city of Cusco in the Andes Mountains and worked at an Aussie Bar. My boss was a beautiful dark Melbournite from South African descent. Not once but twice a day we would get asked the fateful question. If it was not asked then they would assume that I was the Australian and she my Inca princess employee. It got old very fast.
When being Peruvian is seen as “negative”
I spent a year in Buenos Aires where my nationality was something almost uncomfortable. I looked like any Argentinian but did not speak like one, causing confusion with whomever I met. When I said I was from Peru they would look at me as if I were an alien from Mars and answer always the same things; “but you have teeth, your hair and skin are light, you are not short and stumpy!”
These comments felt extremely offensive to me. Not only were they being horribly discriminative towards the native Peruvian but also to me because those people are my friends, my coworkers, my family. It was worse when the dark, short and stumpy Peruvians encountered me in Buenos Aires, they would say things like “la limeñita blanca”. That also got old very fast.
I have to admit that while I lived In Cusco, there was a discriminatory feeling towards people from the capital. The co-owner of the Aussie Bar was from Lima but he didn’t like it when they came into his bar, he only wanted foreigners. But the right kind of foreigners, not Israelis. He was pretty discriminative about all of that and it made me and a lot of other people uncomfortable. I am sorry for ever having played along with him in the jokes about how Limeñas ask “Tienes sanguche de pollo?”
I am Limeña, a white Limeña. I don’t exactly speak like one but my family is from there so I guess that’s what I am. I don’t particularly feel like I fit in most of the time when I’m there but I think this happens to a lot of white Limeños that have lived abroad. Unfortunately a lot of them are also very racist towards natives or anyone darker than them.
I have many times wanted to not be from there, to run away from that reality but I think I have to stop pretending. That’s just who I am. A white Latina who travels the world with her kids that don’t even remember Peru, one of them has never even set foot there. I’m sure she will have lots of stories to tell when she’s older about being “Peruvian” and the ever repeating question;
Where are you from?
She has started answering that she is from Bangkok.