Photographer Anita Cheung’s Not-So-Simple Question For Women of Colour

"Where Are You Really From?" is a poignant photo series that explores the joys and struggles of growing up with multicultural heritage.

First generation Chinese-Canadian photographer and all-around creative powerhouse (I mean, honestly, just look at her work at her company Moment Meditation) Anita Cheung has a unique perspective on life. As an Asian minority in a predominantly white society in Vancouver, Cheung is well-versed with the influences of race and culture, and how these factors impact your life and self-image from childhood to adulthood.

As a woman of color, there comes a time when you will inevitably be asked the simple question: “where are you really from?” The implication here is that the person of color on the receiving end is asked once, “where are you from,” and when the recipient gives the place where they spent most of their life (likely a predominantly white area geographically speaking), they are asked again: “where are you really from,” clarifying the need for explanation of their skin pigment or ethnic appearance.

“Where Are You Really From?” is thus the title of this series about the diverse backgrounds of women and their identification of themselves within a culture. On the event website, Cheung states: “‘Where Are You Really From?’ stemmed from frustration, confusion, and a sense of isolation. In light of the current political climate and incidences in my personal life, I was forced to confront my coloured-ness. And, from facing it head-on, the world as I used to see it fell away only to reveal a beast more complex than I could have imagined.”

Along with this question, whether asked in a tone of polite curiosity or one of interrogation or disbelief, often accompanies estranged feelings of being represented as “the other,” of being labelled, “put in a box,” or stereotyped based on your supposed origin rather than your own individuality.

Cheung’s ultimate goal with this project was to connect and empower a community of multicultural women while raising awareness to others who may not have been on the receiving end of this question but are interested to hear their stories. She asked the women who participated “Where Are You Really From?” in an open and honest way, and what follows is an amalgamation of stories from different women who had a lot to say about the struggles and joys that come with being who they are.

“I wanted to see if others felt this way. I wanted to explore what it means to be a woman of colour- this lumping together of multiple backgrounds and multiple experiences into the generic category of ‘Other.’ Was there one thing, some thing, that we all had in common?” Dive into the unique, difficult, empowering, lighthearted, lovely stories of twenty one diverse women of color here.

Photos by Anita Cheung