Nobody’s ever asked to see my birth certificate. But as someone of Chinese descent I have been asked plenty of times where I’m from — and when I say “Poughkeepsie,” I often get the follow-up question that’s almost a cliché now among Asian Americans: “No, where are you really from?”
It’s always disheartening to get that question, even though I’ve learned to answer it with equanimity and usually take care to make the inquisitor feel not-stupid. But it’s always clarifying, for it reveals the default picture in the minds of some of my fellow Americans about who they are, who we are, and who I am.
That’s why Mitt Romney’s birther-baiting remarks today are, in a way, welcome. Let there be no doubt: He is the candidate for people who think the name Obama must be Muslim and its bearer indelibly foreign. He is also the candidate for the greater number of people who do not initially imagine that someone with my face, my eyes, my skin could be from this country.