Last summer, a Chinese man approached me on a crowded Beijing street and asked me in Mandarin if I was Chinese American. It seemed innocent enough, as I was speaking English with expat friends. But after I nodded, he switched to English and bellowed "go back to where you f**king came from".
These stinging words are familiar for Asian Americans living in the United States. But it was jarring to hear the phrase shouted at me in China. In the moment, I let out a laugh: As a Chinese American, I have now been told to get out of each country for the other. It was a moment of realization that regardless of where I go, I will always be a foreigner.
I was born and raised in America, but over the past few years, I've lived in Beijing, Hong Kong and now Japan -- where the majority of people I'm surrounded by look like me and assume I'm a native. At first, that gave me an inexplicable -- albeit superficial -- sense of belonging that I never felt in America. In the US, my answer to the constant question "where are you from?" is never enough. When I say America, it's almost always followed by: "But where are you really from?" Countless times I've been asked why I can speak English "without an accent."