HBO Def Poet Carlos Andrés Gómez has a powerful clapback for anyone who’s ever asked “What are you?” or “Where are you really from?”
The spoken word artist and author’s performance of his poem ― aptly titled “But where are you REALLY from?” ― was featured on the We are mitú Facebook page on Tuesday.
“In light of the escalating xenophobia in this country ― and, especially, the pervasive dehumanization of undocumented folks and refugees ― I had to write this poem,” Gómez told The Huffington Post. “I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked, ‘What are you? Where are you from?’ Those questions, particularly when they arise in tandem, have always felt demeaning.”
In the poem, the artist describes an interaction with an unnamed man who insists on knowing his heritage, even after the poet tells the man he’s from New York. Gómez then goes into an explanation of why he doesn’t “owe a goddamn thing to anyone” and why anyone asking those types of questions is problematic.
“The question ‘Where are you from?’ in our current America is a slur disguised as a question mark,” he says in the poem, adding that the questions are microagressions that paint people as “others.”
Gómez says he hopes that anyone who’s been asked these questions can relate to his words.
“As I say in the poem, those microaggressive interrogatives are statements, in fact epithets, not questions,” he said. “I am a proud Colombiano, the grateful son of an immigrant. I hope this poem makes anyone who has ever been made to feel like an outsider empowered and seen.”
The poet also wants those who ask these types of question to think about the impact of their words.
“I hope this poem confronts and challenges anyone who feels justified in belittling another person because of their citizenship or refugee status, religion, ethnicity, or nationality,” Gómez said. “I hope this poem inspires someone to interrogate and recognize, for the first time, how implicit bias is enacted through language. We need everyone right now to stand up and resist in whatever way possible.”