When I was a kid, I don’t recall ever asking anybody where they are from. Not sure why. Now that more of life has presented itself to me, I find that more and more people are asking me ‘where are you from’ or ‘what is your background’. If answered ‘correctly’, this conversation will lead into more specifics.
India, where in India? Mumbai. Where in Mumbai?
What I find cool is that the questions stop when familiarity stops.
Where do you work? Toronto. Where in Toronto. Downtown. Oh, never-mind.
So I know that people are seeking familiarity because they are seeking comfort. Or sometimes those questions are genuinely asked to satisfy curiosity. Others, I find, do it to stereotype-most likely in a negative way. They ask you your background because ‘all girls from Egypt are so and so’. That is where the discomfort arises. That is the reason why some people are afraid of revealing their ethnic background. Those stereotypes could’ve emerged from anywhere: the smart Asian guys at school, the terrorists from ‘you know where’ or sometimes characters from stories, like Aladdin, that are manifested in a society’ theater and literature.
Next time someone asks you your cultural background and you doubt their intentions, just say: “I am from wherever you want me to be from”. Tease them. Take control. Be positive about sharing your background and show off your brightest side such that your presence builds up to the point in their mind that you can shatter the existence of any stereotype that ever existed in their mind relating to you. Sometimes it can take 4-5 meetings before that stereotype breaks, but it will.