Can only white people be American?

Nyssa Thongthai
Richmond, VA

I am Thai-American. I was born here and raised in Thailand. I came back here when I was 15. I’ve lived in Norfolk, VA for 12 years now and when people asked me where I’m from, I would answer Norfolk. And lots of time they would counter me and say “No, no no no. That’s not what I meant. I meant where are you REALLY from?” It does not bother me most of the time, but sometimes it makes me doubt my American citizenship, of me actually being an American. Am I not considered American just because the way I look? or how I sound? or how I’m different? In college, I observed that many of my foreign students who are non-white would get asked this question “where are you from?” all the time, while the Caucasian foreign students wouldn’t be asked as often (unless their accent or air or clothing gave them away). It is quite a curious thing to admit that people would assume that a Caucasian walking down a street would more likely be an American than non-Caucasian. I don’t mine when people ask me “where I am from” when I can sense that they would like to get to know me better. But I would rather be asked for “my heritage” or “my parent’s nationalities” or even “my nationality” because I don’t have to sit and think “wait, are they asking me for where is my hometown in the US? or they actually want to know where “I’m REALLY from”?”.


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