“So, what are you?” they ask.

what are youKaren Gephart Altschul,
Vernon Hills, IL.

I was five, the first time I can remember somebody asking me that question. “What are you? Chinese or something?” Huh? Um, what are you talking about? I’ve been asked this question, “what are you”, on the first day at a job. A girl from China asked me if I’m Chinese, too. I was spending a semester in Florence, Italy, and my teacher stopped in the middle of class to ask me that question. I said I was American. I thought maybe, just maybe, that’s what he meant since there were students from many countries. He couldn’t possibly be asking me about race, when there were Korean kids, Mexican kids, all variety of people in this class. “No, no. What ARE you? You know: what are your origins?”. Well, I was born in Iowa….but I knew what he meant. I am a lot of things: daughter, sister, mother, wife, artist, reader, gardener. I am also a lot of things that make up why I look like I do: English, Welsh, Scottish, German, Mexican, Yaqui. “Ooooooooh. So that’s it,” they say. “You’re an Indian. Or a Native American, if you prefer that. That makes sense.” I’m so glad.


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