Sulu DC

Where are you from?

Where are you from?
Where are you really from?

Where am I from?
Your question makes me flinch
Makes me narrow my eyes
At your narrow ways of defining me
Suspecting me of being foreign
'Cause this phenotype doesn't match yours
And my answer's not what you were expecting

Where I come from
I never knew much
Outside the baggy break dance flares
And street fights, corner and street light
Philosophies of just trying to survive
When my culture resided in the memories
Of parents who couldn’t survive the translation
Of defining Asian America
Or even Asians in America

Where I come from kids called me the color of ketchup
And while New England winters didn’t flow with my tropical island blood
My penchant for turning three shades darker in summer
Earned me warnings from my aunt and mother
To “be careful—fairer is better”

You ask me if I'm from
Any country but here

But I'm from right HERE
Raised in the suburbs of Maryland
Feasting on crabs, rice, and Mickeedees
Riding on training wheels
And the promise of a better life

Here where being somebody
Was built on the habitual ceremonies
Of dance parties and underage drinking
In the fog of second hand smoke
Where I come from
Slanted eyes brought beef
Mall rat packing
And five finger discount adrenaline rushes
Here in my hometown where suburban kids
Try to live their ghetto dreams

Here where I had to explain women’s garb that looked like a bedsheet
Red dots on foreheads and why my friends could only be female
Spent my youth living up to stereotypes like ‘good sheltered Asian girl’
While dreaming of being a ‘bad free American girl’

With the absence of our history
We created our past
Out of blanket tents
And gang signs
These were our graffiti murals
Proclaiming that we existed

We come from . . .
Papers that prove
We belong

I'm proud of the heritage that lies in the timbre of my voice
I scream long forgotten ancestral songs
Translate legacies into accents
Into this language that you can understand
'Cause this is where I'M from

I live down the block, across the state, past the river
Inhaled American air in my first breath
I speak English in my dreams, out loud
Lies in the depth of my parents' arms
Outstretched to their history
And the one we share in this country

So tell me where are YOU from?
Where are you REALLY from?

Lantern Review: A Journal of Asian American Poetry
Issue 2 | Winter 2011 | p 55-60