Home » Uncategorized » Where is your identity? 你从哪里来?

Where is your identity? 你从哪里来?



I just came back from the IABD conference which was held in Long Beach, CA this year. When people asked me “where are you from?”, I needed to give them a long answer that “I come from China, but now I study in Boston.”

Today, the advancement of information technology, globalization, and the disappearing of ethnic boundaries make personal identity has become a vague topic. The question of “where are you from” is not easy to answer any longer. I am a person strongly keep my identity. I closely keep in touch with Chinese things everyday during the two years I stay in America: news, TV programs and books. I still do not like eating American food too much and cook Chinese food at home or eat in Chinatown. When I travel, I always say I come from China though Boston is where I am living now.

But for others, especially the second generation of immigrants, they usually struggle with unclear identities. Jennifer W. Jay of University of Alberta interviewed some American and Canada Born Chinese (CBC/ABC) students in her paper of “Rapper Jin and ABC: Acquiring Spoken Cantonese and Transnational Identity Through Restaurant Culture and Hong Kong TV”. She found that a number of CBCs and ABCs acquired some proficiency with spoken Cantonese through mimicking their parents and watching Hong Kong TV at home. Their first spoken language was Cantonese and they could sing the theme songs of television series but could not read or write Chinese. As their social circle broadened outside the home, they began losing both fluency in Cantonese and interest in their parents’ background except for Chinese food. Mostly the parents and grandparents accept the loss of fluency and criticize them as hollow bamboo kids (of Chinese ethnicity but empty of Chinese substances) or Banana Kids (of yellow skin but of all white culture inside).

(Refer to http://chinalinks.osu.edu/naccl-20/proceedings/20_jay-j.pdf)

The video I attached below is an interview to Gene Yang, creator of a graphic novel American Born Chinese. He shares his struggle to reconcile his Chinese heritage with his American homeland. On the cover of the novel, he asks himself a question which is “Am I the Monkey King or a Transformer?” Monkey King and Transformer are representatives of Chinese and American culture. Which cultural identity do you belong to? I think this is a question to most of second generations of immigrants to America.


1. When you are asked the question “where are you from?”, what will be your answer?

2. Have you ever been through identity struggling?

3. Do you think it is important to keep one’s identity or not? What are the advantages and disadvantages?


P.S.  This is my last assignment at Emerson College. My life experience in the US will be end. I am very very glad to have Dr. CJ and all of you be my friends in the past two years. I hope all you guys good luck in the future!



  1. Alex says:

    Identity is an interesting issue for me. I think identity involves multiple layers, but the focus of this blog seems to be culture in regard to ethnic classifications. There are definitely multiple facets, sometimes arising tensions, to being part of or being classified as part of a group.

    In terms of ethnicity and culture, I identify both as Italian American, and as Latin American. I will try to break this down. My dad came to the U.S. as a child from Panama (in South America), with his family. His mother (my grandmother) was originally from San Andres, which is an island that is part of Colombia but is actually closer to the coast of Nicaragua, and historically, the island has gone back and forth (from what I understand) to being part of Colombia and Nicaragua.

    My grandmother moved to Panama from San Andres when she was a teenager – the Panama Canal was being built, and this brought an influx of jobs and opportunity. My grandfather (who I never met – he died before I was born) was an American soldier in the U.S. Army working on the Panama Canal. My dad and his brothers were born in Panama. My dad lived there for about 10 years, and his family came to the U.S.

    My mother is (I think in proper terms) a second generation Italian American, meaning she and her parents were born in the U.S., with her grandparents coming from Italy.

    There are traits people have associated with me more than I really associated with myself because of my ethnic background. For instance, Italians are classified as having short tempers and “Italian rage” is often used to describe this. I’ve also had others point out, “Oh, you’re Italian – you eat a lot,” because Italian American families tend to have meals with large portions and multiple courses, and the meal server is generally very hospitable and keeps trying to give you more and more food. Italian Americans are also characterized by “talking with the hands” – moving hands around a lot when they speak.

    When people ask what my ethnic background is, I often say, “Italian and Spanish.” If someone asks if I am Latino, I say yes. However, I am conflicted about what Latin American country to identify with, because my father would not have identified as Panamanian; he simply identifies as Hispanic. And then I am not sure if I should identify as Colombian, because my grandmother wasn’t from mainland Colombia. With language, I actually speak next to no Spanish and zero Italian. My first name is Greek and my last name is English (British); however, I am neither Greek nor English! It is embarrassing that I have people trying to speak Spanish to me on a regular basis, because they associate me with looking Hispanic, but I cannot even respond to them. My dad and my grandmother spoke Spanish, but they did not speak it to me regularly or have conversations around me often in Spanish.

    When people ask where I am from, my response is in relation to where I am. If I am in Boston, I will tell people what town in Mass. where I grew up. However, if I am in the town where I grew up, I may make reference to the area I was “originally from” meaning the city where I was born, which is another area.

    There are other layers to identity I could speak of, including religion, and positioning within family, friends, and other aspects of environment, but the focus here seems to be on culture coming from ethnicity/race, and geography.

  2. tjglover23 says:

    1. When you are asked the question “where are you from?”, what will be your answer? It depends on where I am, when asked the question. If I am in Boston and someone asks, I say I am from Hampton,Virginia. I sometimes just say Virginia because often times people in Boston know nothing about Virginia much less Hampton and I don’t like to explain myself. If in Virginia, I say I am from Hampton. If out of the country I say I have from the US. I may go into which state but often I don’t find it necessary.

    2. Have you ever been through identity struggling?
    I have. I think all people, no matter who they are or where they are from at some point struggle with who they are. I think the stuggle is common but how one comes to terms with that struggle is what makes someones identity. But identity struggle is a part of like whether you are 5 or 95 it can happen. That is what a mid-life crisis is for a man, a struggle with his identity.

    3. Do you think it is important to keep one’s identity or not? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
    Keep which identity. The identity that is created for you when you are born changes as you grow. If you mean culturall id then yes I believe it is important to know who you are and where you are from. I admire people who know their roots, their cultural identity because I don’t know mine. I know a part of me is African, Native American, Irish and German but I don’t really know. So I say hold on to who you are and if you add to it add to it. The advantages are that you know who you are and no one can take it away.

  3. Boon Han says:

    When you are asked the question “where are you from?”, what will be your answer?
    I would normally just say that I am from Singapore. As Singapore is a city state, I don’t really have to go into details on which part of Singapore I am from. Although, I often have to explain to people that Singapore is not a part of China and it is a tiny city state in South-east Asia.

    Have you ever been through identity struggling?
    I was raised in a family that adheres quite strongly to our Chinese roots and traditions. When I was growing up, my Dad even had to insist that we speak mandarin at home because my siblings and I were speaking in english all the time. All my friends spoke english in school and we all watched sesame street and english cartoons. It was also a lot harder to learn chinese as compared to english because you have to memorize and remember all the different characters. I could read a lot faster in english too. While I could read all the enid blyton & roald dahl books relatively quickly, it was a pain for me to read in chinese. I started to detest the language and was very resistant towards it.
    However, as I got older, I somehow started to gravitate towards it a little more. Probably because I went to a middle school that is rich in chinese culture and my friends there spoke more mandarin. I started to read chinese sword fighting novels and comics in chinese and I really started to appreciate my culture and ethnicity. Gradually, I became really proud of the 5000 years of chinese history and culture.

    Although I am not from China, I somehow felt immense pride during the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in 2008 as I watched the chinese people pulling off a world class act that amazed the world.

  4. KSA ROCKS! says:

    Hey ^_^ Thank you for your kind words. It was my great pleasure to have you and the others be my classmates, this class has been an amazing and insightful journey and I have learnt abundantly from every member. I wish you and all the graduating and the new Emersonians the very best in your life, and career journeys =->>>

    I think that the aspect of globalization has caused many cultures and ethnicities to integrate. This has led to the death of many indigenous cultures and practices and in its place, the emergence of different practices that hide one’s identity. The issue of one’s identity cannot be plainly addressed without considering the challenges that have been brought about by integration and globalization. My experience of being a Saudi in America has made me understand how challenging it can be to define one’s identity.

    The global integration and immigration has led to the adaptation of a single hybrid culture that covers up the initial culture and practices. The issue on identity can only be addressed by looking at the issues being practiced at the time of questioning. The current generation requires that identity be associated with the specific place and practice being carried out by the person in question. It is the high time that the definition of culture and background got replaced by other current issues like place of work, residence or academic places.

    Changing the traditional and stereotyped definition of one’s identity can make it simpler for individuals who are quite far from their homes. If a person’s current identity was to be associated with his/her current residence rather than being associated with the person’s home country, it would be easier to identify themselves to those around them. However, the reliance on the traditional definition that addresses the exact location without considering the current place of residence can be quite hectic for many people. Identity is therefore one of the most challenging issues and it can only be addressed if all other aspects were integrated and that the traditional definition was eliminated to reduce the problem of specifying all the places one has come from.

  5. sonigreca says:

    1. When you are asked the question “where are you from?”, what will be your answer?
    Beijing, China.

    2. Have you ever been through identity struggling?
    All the time. Your topic is really similar to my capstone and the topic we presented in ECA conference. I’m always struggling with my identity because my past experiences have influenced my identity so much. I’m always see myself as Chinese. But my family and my friends all think I’m not typical Chinese.
    3. Do you think it is important to keep one’s identity or not? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
    Of course keeping your identity is important. But identity has multi layers that are created and developed in different life transition. I think each person knows who she/he is. But your identity is also shown in relationship. Some people struggling because who they think they are is different from what others see them in a relationship. For me, I think I’m being a Chinese doing a “Chinese” thing, but my family or friend at home always “judge” me when I say or do something too “Italian” or “American”… I think good thing of keeping you identity is you always know who you are and you would not get lost in you life. Bad thing could be you don’t admit that some layers of you identity has changed, and you feel painful when people see those layers different from how you see them…

  6. grabernieto says:

    Identity is an interesting concept! There are different factors that can differentiate each of us and can define us personally and by others. When I am asked when I am from I run through the same situation as explain in the blog, I usually respond that I am from South America and if the person asks where I will respond with Ecuador. However, when I am at home people view me differently because I live in the US since I was 18. People will assume my identity is more American than Ecuadorian since I have adopted different customs and different way to carry myself. I think this creates a little bit of an identity struggle, but I consider myself not defined by where I come from, but rather by my characteristics by what makes me, me!. I think it brings both advantages and disadvantages. Disadvantages in the sense of how people might perceive you or label you. There can be a lot of misconceptions by your “identity”. Advantage it differentiate us , identity makes us special makes us unique and a part from the rest. Interesting topic, and I wish you luck in all your future endeavors!

  7. Kristina Coppola says:

    Identity is a really interesting topic, and something that is always changing.

    1. When you are asked the question “where are you from?”, what will be your answer?
    It depends on where I am and who I am with. If I’m in Michigan and people ask, I’ll say I’m from Boston (even though I live about 20 miles south of the city) because people can relate more with that. If I’m here in MA and someone asks, I will usually say “South Shore” for the region or give my specific town name. However, if the conversation revolves around something that I think would be influenced by where I grew up (and not where I’ve lived for the last six years), then I would say Detroit since I think that is more indicative of the culture that shaped who I am.

    2. Have you ever been through identity struggling?
    Yes, but not in the sense of my ethnicity. For me, it was the change in identity when I got married and when I had kids. It represented a huge change in the way others thought of me and the way I thought of myself.

    3. Do you think it is important to keep one’s identity or not? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
    As I mentioned earlier, I think that identity is something that will have foundational principles, but will (and should) transform throughout your life. We can continue to value religion, language, traditions but even our own culture will change and we will change along with it. Our identity will take on new aspects as we encounter new people, work in new jobs, enter new relationships, and for some, have children. I think that if you aren’t willing to accept the things that life brings and embrace the change in your life, you will be at a disadvantage and may have more cognitive dissonance as you try to process the changes around you.

  8. Ji Li says:

    1. When you are asked the question “where are you from?”, what will be your answer?
    No matter when and where I am asked this question, my answer never changes: I come from China.If the person who asks me this question is interested in which city I come from in China, I will further say that I come from a city named Chengdu which located in Southwest China.

    2. Have you ever been through identity struggling?
    Admittedly, never. No matter where and how long I have stayed in another country, I have never thought about the “place” I come from would be any other place other than China. Maybe I am a person with really strong sense of belonging to my hometown, and my home country.

    3. Do you think it is important to keep one’s identity or not? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
    In my opinion, it is important to keep one’s identity for sure. Where I come from, what I have experienced, what characteristics I have…all these factors make me become who I am, all these features are my precious treasures and make me a unique person in the world. Keep one’s identity doesn’t mean refusing to get involved in new environment or keeping myself isolated from others. I can keep my identity and learn new culture, new habits, new way of communication, and even new lifestyle at the same time. I didn’t find any contradiction toward this question.

  9. Laura Chechette says:

    1. When you are asked the question “where are you from?”, what will be your answer?
    My answer is “I am from Western Mass.” If people ask for more detail I will say Springfield because many people have never heard of my town, Longmeadow. I have noticed that since I moved out of my parents house in January I find it awkward to say “My parent’s home” instead of my home. Yes my house in Longmeadow will always be my home, but I live in Boston now and it has been an interesting transition period.

    2. Have you ever been through identity struggling?
    When I studied abroad in London I didn’t have any identity struggling because I think the two cultures are so similar. I actually had more problems with my identity during my year of service during AmeriCorps when I stayed in the US. I travled all over and the constant moving around made it hard to ever adjust to a new location and to feel accepted by the community. Although my identity was still American I felt that I was representing MA or Western Mass more during my year of service.

    3. Do you think it is important to keep one’s identity or not? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
    I think it is important to keep one’s identity because it can serve as a constant in people’s lives so that they have something to rely on. With that being said I think that it is ok for peoples identities to change over time. For example when I move, get married or have kids in the future my identity will change to wife, mother, or resident of a location TBD. I don’t think that people should change their identity to fit in or because of peer pressure to do so, but sometimes a person’s life experiences will naturally change their identity.

  10. andreslmc says:

    I get this question all the time because of my name. I will typically say that I was born in Bogota and raised in Boston. If I sense that the person I’m having a conversation with is interested in my personal background, I certainly share more about my heritage. However, if the conversation is cursory, then I simply say that I’m from Boston.

    When I was younger I definitely struggled with my identity. This struggle was perhaps most pronounced during my teenage years as I tried to grapple with American and Colombian culture. However, as I have gotten older I have I gained a greater appreciation for each culture. I no longer view being bi-cultural a struggle, but take joy in learning about life from standpoint of each culture.

    I think that it is very important to keep one’s identity. I think that by understanding one’s cultural heritage one can make better life decisions. Understanding one’s cultural heritage gives people the ability to make informed decisions that rely on deep seated values.

  11. meredithmckenna says:

    1. When you are asked the question “where are you from?”, what will be your answer?

    When people ask where I am from, my answer varies depending on where I am and who is asking it. Usually I just say Buffalo, NY but if I meet someone from Buffalo or am home I say exactly where in Buffalo I am from.

    2. Have you ever been through identity struggling?
    When people ask my nationality, I tell them that I am half Irish (mom’s side) and half Polish (dad’s side), although I can’t say that I am I identify much with my Polish side. My mom’s side of the family is very rooted in their Irish culture, which has been passed on to me as well, whereas I do not feel connected to my Polish roots.

    3. Do you think it is important to keep one’s identity or not? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
    I think it is definitely important to keep one’s identity, because this is what has helped shaped a person into who he or she is in the moment. It is also important to not get caught up too much in identity, and making sure it doesn’t hinder one’s growth as a person.

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