Who am I really? Where do I come from?

By Phoebe Hughes
Dec. 28, 2017

As an Asian-American, adopted volunteer serving in the Kyrgyz Republic I am often asked questions about my heritage. 

Every time I meet someone new, they tell me that I look Kyrgyz. Because of this, "окшок"1 was one of the first words I learned.

On the plus side, I tend to blend in. On the down side, people are surprised when they hear that I am an American and sometimes do not believe me.

My counterpart and host family have been very supportive when people ask questions. They help me assure others of my English speaking ability and my American nationality. I found it particularly comforting the first day I met my host family when instead of questioning my nationality, my host father immediately answered, "Of course she is an American," after a visitor asked the inevitable question: "Are you really an American?"

The follow up to the pesky nationality question is usually "But where are you really from?" Being adopted from China slightly complicates this question for me. My answer depends on whom I am talking to and how much time I have to explain. Sometimes I just say America, but sometimes I explain that I was born in China and my parents adopted me when I was 5 months old and no, I don't speak Chinese and yes, my parents are white and were born in the USA. Everyone responds to this differently. Some are interested by my adoption, some look down upon it, some are confused, and others are just silent. I try to use this as a teaching opportunity and explain that America is a multinational country with people of many different backgrounds.

These questions make me think about my heritage and foster my desire to learn more about where I come from, but they also make me question myself and my identity. Who am I really? Where do I come from?

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