The Biggest Question I Receive As A Black Traveler And Why I Don’t Have An Answer | “Where are you from?”

Local: “Where are you from?” ⁣

Me: “The United States…America.”⁣

Local: “No, but where are you REALLY from?”⁣

Me: “…America. Texas, to be exact.”⁣

Local: “Where are your parents from?”⁣

Me: “America :).”⁣

Local: “Your grandparents?.”⁣

Me: “Still…America.”⁣ ⁣


I’ve been asked this question by locals all over the world and I know what they’re getting at. I know they see my brown skin and while they can see that I am black by race, they’re curious about my ethnicity. They’re curious about my origins. Sometimes they’ll suggest countries in Africa or even the Caribbean. I simply smile and say, “Maybe. It’s possible.” This has triggered arguments, as if I’m lying or hiding something. I can see the confusion on their face, but I truly do not have an answer for them. ⁣ ⁣There are a few things to note about this conversation…

When I’m asked of my origins, people are often confused about WHY I don’t know where my family is “actually” from. I must then share a history lesson about the transatlantic slave trade in America. I must tell them that most(not all!) African Americans know that we have African Ancestry, but we were robbed of knowing our identity. We don’t know the true extent of our heritage. Eventually, the constant question revealed how great of a privilege it is to know where your ancestors come from. To carry their last names rather than that of a slave owner. To have remnants of family history that weren’t burned and records of your relatives that weren’t “lost” somewhere along the way. By the end of my mini-history lesson, they kinda sorta get it. I walk away feeling proud of the culture that black Americans have created in-spite of, while also having a burning desire to know more about my roots. Because at times, being black in America feels like being in the between.⁣

Then there’s the fact that many non-Americans(especially from non-western countries) have an idea of what “Americans” look like. Because my skin is brown, I can’t possibly be from the US. Western media tells them that an “All-American” girl is either blonde or brunette. Western media perpetuates the narrative that black & brown people are not REAL Americans.⁣

A few years back, I became fast friends with a blonde German girl in Nicaragua while we were both traveling solo. One day, we decided to visit a UNESCO heritage church in the capital city when suddenly we were swarmed by a large group of local school children. They all whipped their camera phones out and their teacher said they wanted to practice their English with us. Can you guess who they all ran towards? The Blonde GERMAN girl. They were shocked to discover that I spoke English at all & that I was in fact the American. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, it’s interesting to see how skin color plays into global perception. ⁣

These instances occur around the world for me, especially when I am alone. Many non-white English teachers struggle to find work in foreign countries because they don’t ‘look the part’ as an American. In this way, travel has truly opened my eyes to my perceived place in the world. It’s revealed the ways an accent, skin color, language, passport, title, etc can subconsciously elevate or lower an individual’s status in the eyes of another.⁣

Who can relate? Can we discuss how media perpetuates the myth of “The Melting Pot” that is America it or that a convo for another day? *sips tea* And maybe one day I’ll take a DNA test. Who Knows? I worry about giving away that access. Can we trust the accuracy of this stuff anyway?  Have you taken a DNA test? What were your thoughts about it? ⁣ ⁣

Spread the love

Hey, I'm Ciara. I’m a global citizen and lover of travel. Want to know more? 

Things you need to know before visiting Tulum


Things you need to know before visiting Tulum


Sign up to stay current on all my latest tips, tricks, photos, and lists.



The Ultimate Travel Book

Travel is one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever given myself and I want to pay it forward by making sure that others get to feel that magic for themselves. If you’re a long-time follower and/or friend of Hey Ciara, then you know that you’re in for a treat. This is a comprehensive and cohesive guide that provides actionable steps to help you get out into the world.

Coming Soon...


Get my packing list

Get the ultimate packing list to make sure you’ve got all the essentials. It’s been 7 years in the making so I’m confident it won’t lead you astray.

Don't know what to bring?

send it to me!