As a person of color, I’m often asked the question “where are you from?” My immediate answer is “I am an American,” to which most people reply “no, I mean where are you from originally?” Though this question seems harmless, it causes me more trouble than you would think. I was born in upstate New York making me a citizen since birth, moved to Oregon when I was three months old and have never lived anywhere else in my life. I have been in the American education system since I could start school, I wear Western clothes, watch the same TV shows and listen to the same music as everyone else. I don’t stand out culturally because I was born and raised an American. So if you ask me where I’m from, I will tell you the honest truth: I am from America.
When someone asks me this question, it is usually because the most obvious way I stand out is my skin color. This brings me to the question that I have struggled with my whole life. If I don’t look like an American, what does an American look like? According to a national census conducted in 2014, America is 77% white. However, this 77% of the population includes people from all different backgrounds and countries. “White” combines together Americans, Canadians, and over three dozen countries in Europe, so even within the 77%, America’s identity is split. And what about the other 33% of America, or the 105 million people, that don’t fit into this category? We are still Americans in and out, our skin tone doesn’t change this.
I’m asking you to reconsider your idea of what an American is. We are a nation of immigrants, we have no national religion or language because we pride ourselves on the ability of giving freedom to everyone no matter their background. An American is not just someone who is white, an American is someone who truly upholds the value of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. My nationality is not the same as my ethnicity. Just because I don’t look like the majority, doesn’t mean I’m not an American.