Seal Beach California pier

Where Am I From? A loaded question?

After the brouhaha from Thoroughly Modern Millie, I feel like I am way more sensitive to racism and when I get asked “Where am I from?”, this video immediately comes to mind.

So where am I from? Or where am I from … from?!

I was born in Anaheim, California, not far from Disneyland. I grew up about 15 minutes from Anaheim, in a small beach town called Seal Beach.

Disneyland california

It’s an interesting place. With a population of about 30,000; it’s exactly evenly divided between the seniors that reside in America’s first retirement community, Leisure World, and your typical semi-ethnically diverse suburban population. Leisure World in Seal Beach once unknowingly housed a Nazi war criminal but typically life in this self-contained community is less scandalous.

Leisure World Seal Beach CA

image from Card Cow

The two divergent communities do make for some tense politics when it comes to issues like raising taxes for education. My mom would always urge me to vote absentee when I was in college because often issues on the ballot would come down to a handful of votes!



seal beach california

Seal Beach is a cute beach town that used to have seals before the people arrived. Now the seals moved to Monterey, California. Smart seals!


seals in montery california

Seals are now in Monterey, California; my husband’s hometown. Weird coincidence?

Seal Beach, CA

This is Main Street, Seal Beach with some local color (because Seal Beach is wacky like that!).



This is the front yard of my childhood house with my mom and my now-husband circa 2003.

photo (10)

As to where I am from from, my mother’s side of the family is from Hiroshima, Japan. She was born in San Francisco but her parents emmigrated from Japan. Here’s our family’s ancestral home in Japan. I’m with my mom and sister during the summer of 2002.

Hiroshima Japan

And my father’s side of the family is from China. I visited China with my family when I was in high school.

photo (12)

Where are you from?

By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. Love-love-love your stories and pictures from Seal Beach and your childhood. And that video is fabulous; I’d seen it before. It always makes me laugh–while at the same time highlighting a real problem.

    In a country composed largely of immigrants, it can be fun to share stories of family background, but people shouldn’t make assumptions–not on looks, not on surnames, either.
    Asakiyume recently posted…“the stars are close and dear”My Profile

  2. Such an interesting post and you’re right, such a loaded question really. I loved reading about your family history-I so enjoy hearing of other’s family backgrounds and history. But you’re right, it can be such a potentially huge question to answer. There are so many assumptions made on appearance, family names etc. It’s good to be reminded that there are human stories behind each and everyone of us and more often than not, appearances tell just a very small part of that story.
    Iona recently posted…The Theme Game-childrenMy Profile

    • Hi Iona,
      Thank you so much!! It’s a funny question to me when someone asks where am I from meaning where I was born versus ancestry. I guess it’s not really offensive to ask what someone’s ancestry is though; it’s just that implication that a person of color isn’t “American” which may not necessarily be what the person intends to imply.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Why Kids Should Keep Up with Science NewsMy Profile

  3. Thanks for sharing. I have been to the area, but had never heard of Seal Beach. It sounds like a delightful community.

  4. Ann

    My mother grew up in an all Italian neighborhood and she told us she used to get chased home from school because of her German heritage (it was right after WW2).
    For a long time as a kid I had a lot of pride about my Irish heritage but then being called Sully one too many times made me feel kind of funny, like certain assumptions were being made about me.
    I still think people’s heritage is interesting. I hope I never look like that guy in the video 🙂
    Looks like you grew up in an amazing place. Also love the landscaping at your ancestral home!!!

    • Thanks Ann,
      My family’s house in Japan still has terranced rice fields nestled in between rolling hills and mountains. My mom always said it was so beautiful but I didn’t really believe her but it truly is remarkably beautiful. I didn’t realize Sully was a name that relates to the Irish. I do find people’s ancestry interesting too and I now have to rethink if speaking a few words of Spanish to someone is offensive (which my kids think) or not. It’s a tricky topic!
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Why Kids Should Keep Up with Science NewsMy Profile

  5. Love that video!! It is so interesting to see how quickly people forget …
    iGameMom recently posted…35 Simple Art Ideas for KidsMy Profile

  6. Great post. My family is caucasian (as far as we know), but several of my siblings look like they are not Caucasian, so they have a lot of conversations like the one you linked to in that video.
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  7. So interesting how the world is getting smaller and smaller! I love knowing the diverse backgrounds of my friends!
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  8. Jim Westcott

    Wonderful post, and thanks for sharing your background. The video is hilarious!
    The majority of my heritage is Dutch. My mother was born outside of Amsterdam. My grandparents emigrated just after WW2. I grew up with stories about what it was like to live in an occupied country. I do believe one should never stray, in mind, from their roots.

  9. Thank you for sharing this wonderful posts and the links. I am fascinated by family histories. You have an interesting family and are lucky to know so much.

    My cousin has done tons of research on my mother’s side – Welsh, Dutch, English. She’s traced my mother’s side back to 1595 in Englad. On my father’s side German, Irish and English. But, all of my ancestors played a significant role in founding cities near Boston, and all over Ohio. My favorite TV show is “Who Do You Think You Are.” I like to look for patterns/traits in families. It gives you a sense about your own life.

    Sorry, I haven’t commented much. Just returned from two weeks of vacation in Florida. Appreciated all of the tweets. Gave myself permission not to do much while gone — hard to do.:)
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  10. Hilarious video. Where are you from is not as bad as what are you? Which I got a lot when I moved to LA.

    Love the pictures of SoCal and learning more about your background. The images of LA brings back lots of fun memories. Thanks for sharing!

  11. I would love to visit Japan and China… and California too! 🙂 It is funny because when people find out I am adopted they ask me where I am from and I tell them Ohio and they say no where were you adopted from and I say Ohio and they still don’t think I get what they are asking. They pretty much think I am a different nationality. It doesn’t really bother me.
    I was born in Ohio and grew up in Pennsylvania near Philadelphia. We don’t have cool seals, but there are a lot of deer and some black bears. 🙂
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    • Hi Erik,
      I’m glad that their questions don’t bother you! It’s funny, isn’t it? They think you are adopted from another country but perhaps through an agency based out of Ohio. Not that it matters anyway. I’m not even sure why they care except that perhaps people think it’s impossible to adopt a baby in the United States so you have to go overseas.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Why Kids Should Keep Up with Science NewsMy Profile

  12. That’s true. Its the same thing. I’m from Hawaii so people there are usually a mix of ethnicities and the question of where are you from doesn’t really asked too often. I think people just assume you’re a mix of ethnicities.

    I lived in Pasadena for about 5 years. Funny, I’m from Hawaii so you would think I would settle on the coast but I really loved the town of Pasadena. Its so nice and quiet. At least it was back in the early 2000s.

    From LA I moved to Boston then Philly and I now live in SF! Its a beautiful place but very expensive. We are a family of 5 and looking to leave the city soon. Not an easy place to raise a big family.
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    • Hi Anna,
      Pasadena is such a lovely town! I used to live in Southern California and thought that area was so beautiful … full of flowers! I used to visit the art museum and Huntington Gardens a lot!

      SF is also a great city. I feel like it’s Boston’s sister city! You probably get asked less about your ethnicity in California than Boston and Philly, I bet??

      Where do you think you’ll move next? My husband and I want to retire in Hawaii on the Big Island. Maybe we will see you there!
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Noah Zarc: Mammoth Trouble Blog TourMy Profile

  13. Loved your answer to this question! It’s always fun to read about people’s family backgrounds. Unfortunately, because of the “forever foreigner” syndrome, the video you posted hits too close to home for many people!

    My family has been in the US for many generations, before that from mostly the British Isles and Germany, but also with some Cherokee. But when people ask where I’m from, I usually think of where I was born – North Carolina!
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  14. Yes! That’s right – the question of “what are you” came up a lot in Boston. I love Pasadena. What a great place to raise a family. Huntington garden is gorgeous!

    Hawaii – Big Island is beautiful! I hope to see you there in a few years 🙂 Waimea (near the astronomy center) is a wonderful town. Very international.

    We’ll be here in SF until then *sigh*. SF isn’t a bad city its just very expensive. Its a bit like the gilded age here.
    Anna Patty recently posted…Traveling Always – A Kim Olson InterviewMy Profile

  15. 🙂 Ha ha yes. That’s true! We may just see each other in Waimea someday! Take care and have a great week!
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  16. Wonderful post, Mia! I am asked this same question often; I love how you answered.
    I enjoyed learning more about you 🙂

  17. Hello..
    How are you ,
    So interesting how the world is getting smaller and smaller! I love knowing the diverse backgrounds of my friends!

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