Sarena Tien

“I am not a Tourist” / “Don’t ask me where I’m from”


Untitled by *Brian Michael Barbeito


There’s one question the world should stop asking Asian-Americans:

“Where are you from?”

It’s a loaded game of Russian roulette

there’s no right answer

If you say America, they demand,

“No, where are you really from?”

And if say anything else, they exclaim,

“You speak English so well!”

So stop giving us baggage to carry.

We never asked to drag suitcases of racism,

broken wheels squeaking over airport floors,

hands forever pressed against windows—

Instead, tell me at what point will I stop being a tourist in my own country?

My identity doesn’t fit neatly in a box like Chinese take-out.

It’s as messy as the jagged splinters left

behind when the wooden chopsticks don’t snap neatly in two.

At school, a girl tried to argue with me over

the pronunciation of dog in Chinese.

She said it was “gao”; I said it was “gŏu.”

I saw the look in her eyes when she realized my Mandarin accent was flawless.

At home, my mom told my dad that “lúsǔn was on sale in grocery stores.

The word was as unfamiliar as the blood tofu she once tried to feed me,

but I was too ashamed to ask.

Google told me she meant asparagus.

I have a foot in both cultures, but I also live in the space between the two—

and I don’t know what to do when I’m not American enough,

or when I’m not Chinese enough.

So ask me again, “Where are you really from?”

and I’ll answer, “Hell”

because that’s what it feels like every time I’m asked that question

and reduced to grease stains on take-out boxes.


Sarena Tien is a queer Chinese-American feminist and francophile. She is currently a PhD student in French Literature at Cornell University. Her writing has appeared in online publications such as Transitions Abroad, The Feminist Wire, Bustle, On She Goes, and Project As[I]Am.


*Brian Michael Barbeito is a poet and photographer from Ontario, Canada. Work appears in on line and print venues and he is currently creating a visual and written narrative titled Mosaics, Journeys through Landscapes Urban and Rural.