Canadians have a favourite pastime, and they don’t even realize it. They like to ask—they absolutely have to ask—where you are from if you don’t look convincingly white.
Here’s a narrative of how it goes:
ME: “Canada.” [This is code for “Screw off.”]
STRANGER: “Yes, but you know, where are you really from? [This is code for “You know what I mean, so why are you trying to make me come out and say it?”] ME: “I come from the foreign and distant metropolis of Newmarket. That’s Newmarket, Ontario. My place of birth.” [Code for “I’m not letting you off the hook, buster.”]
STRANGER: “But your place of origin? Your parents? What are your parents?” [Code for “I want to know your race, but this is making me very uncomfortable because somehow I feel that I’m not supposed to ask that question.”]
As Margaret Cho says when someone tells her that I just can’t tell you asians apart! she says Why do you need to tell us apart? Where are we going?
Or you can see how Henry Wu describes it in his book on Asian-American history and society: Where are you from? Wu calls it perpetual foreigner syndrome:
have heard the point as a direct taunt. It comes as the heckler’s jeer: “If you don’t like it here, then go back where you came from.” Or it comes as the snubbed host’s uncomprehending whine: “Don’t you like everything this country has given you?” The perpetual foreigner syndrome also can be expressed as empathy. They don’t realize that I speak English perfectly well and am accustomed to shaking hands.