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Mistaken for Foreigner

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"I can't go back to my 'home country.' I was born and raised in San Francisco; I'm in my home country!"

This trope is when a person of color is automatically assumed to be from the country of their ethnic origin (or someplace vaguely close to it), even though their speech, dress, and body language reflect the country they call home, because that's where they were born and raised. A common example would be an Asian-American being asked where they're from, asked about an aspect of an Asian culture (whether it's their own or not), or is assumed to not speak English, only for them to curtly respond in a plain American accent, "Dude I'm from Philly."

Subtrope of Mistaken Nationality. Not to be confused with Fake Nationality, which is when the actor is a different nationality than the character they're portraying. Two inversions would be Fauxreigner, when a character is not foreign but plays up their ethnic background as a gimmick, and But Not Too Foreign, when the character really is from a different country, but the story goes out of its way to prove that they're "just like us."


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  • An Australian television ad had a father cooking something Asian on the barbecue for his daughter's university friend, an Asian girl. He asked her where she was from, only for her to reply in an Australian accent "Ballarat".

    Comic Books 
  • In American Born Chinese, (a) main character is, well, an American-born person of Chinese descent. However, his entirely white class (teacher included) had issues with the fact he was born in America and kept thinking he was from China (or Japan, or Korea...).
  • In Runaways, the kids time-travel to the early 1900s and their new allies mistake Nico for a Chinese immigrant; she corrects them that her family is Japanese but she herself was born in California.

    Fan Works 
  • In Goldstein, this is the first sign of Terry's extreme lack of tact:
    Terry: Where are you from?
    Padma: Birmingham.
    Terry: No, I mean where are you from?
    Padma: Birmingham. (laughs, rolls eyes) My grandparents are from India. You could have just asked.
  • Mean Time to Breakdown:
    • Iwanako initially mistakes Molly for a foreigner. Molly is ethnically Indian but was raised (and likely born) in Japan.
    • When Iwanako sees the blue-eyed, blonde Lilly, she thinks that she's a foreigner. It surprises her when Lilly speaks to her in fluent Japanese. Lilly is half-white (more specifically, half-Scottish) but is Japanese raised.

  • In Crash, Graham cuts short a conversation with his mother on the phone because he's "having sex with [his] Mexican girlfriend." This offends his girlfriend; neither of her parents are from Mexico and she herself was born and raised in California. She was also disgusted that he would be so vulgar with his mother. Needless to say, it killed her mood to continue having sex with him.
  • Mean Girls: The principal announces that they have a New Transfer Student from Africa. The schoolteacher gestures to a girl of African-American descent, telling her "Welcome." The girl, clearly affronted, says "I'm from Michigan." (The actual transfer is the white protagonist.)
  • Johnny Dangerously has a Spinning Newspaper read mob boss Roman Moronie deported to Greece,"...SAYS HE NOT FROM THERE"
  • In Captain America: The First Avenger (which takes place during World War II), a number of American POWs are liberated from a Nazi prison camp and one of them (Dugan) stumbles upon a Japanese man.
    Dugan: We taking anyone with us, now?
    Morita: *Holds up dog tags* I'm from Fresno, Ace.
    • Subverted in an earlier scene. During his physical Steve receives a doctor with a heavy German accent. He asks him (Dr. Erskine) where he's from and the doctor replies: "Queens... before zat, Germany."
  • Born in East L.A. is about a Mexican-American who is mistaken for an illegal immigrant and wrongfully deported because he left his ID at home.
  • In Earth Girls Are Easy, an Indian gas station attendant yells "I'm from here!" when the aliens invade his store; he thinks they're there to rob the store and doesn't want them to attack him for being foreign.
  • In The Karate Kid remake, while flying to China while moving away from Detroit, Dre is encouraged by his mother to strike up a conversation in Chinese to an Asian man sitting next to him. Turns out that man is also from Detroit.
  • Played for laughs in Short Circuit, where Ben (supposedly an Indian) is asked where he's from:
    Ben: Bakersfield, originally.
    Newton: No, I mean your ancestors.
    Ben: Oh, them. Pittsburgh.
  • In Ghostbusters II, Peter asks the generically Eastern European Janosz "Where the hell are you from, Johnny?" and Janosz replies with a perplexed "The Upper Vest Side".
  • In The Naked Gun 33 1/3, Frank and Jane uncover a terrorist plot to blow up the Academy Awards, but when they run outside to tell a cab driver to call the police, he only speaks Arabic. They go to the next one but he only speaks Spanish. They come to a third one, an older African man in a turban, at which point they don't even bother and head back inside. Once they leave, the cabbie says in English with a British accent,note  "I wonder what the devil they wanted..."

  • Happens a lot in Discworld, especially with non-human races, who are still thought of as coming from elsewhere even though many of them are born in Ankh-Morpork. Unseen Academicals has this:
    Juliet (about a Dwarf): He should go back to where he came from.
    Glenda: That'll be Treacle Mine Road, then, he was born in the city.
  • In Mama's Going To Buy You A Mockingbird by Jean Little, Jeremy sees a new boy named Kim Chiong at school and asks him if he speaks English. Kim replies, "All the time. How about you?" It turns out he's lived in Canada his whole life.
  • The Psychology Of Time Travel: Odette is Seychelloise-English. Though technically born in the Seychelles, she has lived in England and been a British citizen since she was a small child. She still gets treated as a foreigner, much to her chagrin.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Big Bang Theory: While the gang eats at a Chinese restaurant, the owner Mr. Chen asks where Howard is. Sheldon replies that "he's putting his needs above the common good", then turns to the others and adds "Where he comes from that's punishable by death." Mr. Chen responds, "I come from Sacramento."
  • In the Father Ted episode "Grant Unto Him Eternal Rest", a group of priests and nuns are gathered at Father Jack's funeral when a nun approaches a black priest and begins gushing about the good work done by the church in Africa, and how is that going? He replies "Sure and I wouldn't know, I'm from Donegal."
  • Friends had Rachel meeting Ross on his return from a archaeology dig in China, with his new girlfriend, Julie. When Rachel sees them together, she tries to give the bouquet of flowers to Julie:
    Ross: Oh, are these for me?
    Rachel: Uh, no...these are for you [[gives them to Julie]] (very pronounced English) Welcome to our country!
    Julie: (responding in the same way) Thank you! I'm from New York!
  • An early episode of Grey's Anatomy had white intern Meredith Grey ask Asian intern Cristina Yang to translate what a Chinese-speaking patient was saying. Yang informed her that "I grew up in Beverly Hills. The only Chinese I know is from a Mr. Chow's menu. Besides, I'm Korean."
  • In It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Mac and Charlie were trying to write a movie to get to M. Night Shyamalan. When in the library, they decide they need a new writer, so they turn to the nearest Ambiguously Brown kid and ask him where he's from. When he just lists a US state, they say they mean where his parents are from...and he lists another US state. Eventually they suss it out that he's of Pakistani descent, which is close enough to Indian for them.
  • Played with in Martial Law in regards to Grace. She was born in China but raised in the United States before returning to live in China for sometime as a cop and came back to the United States.
  • In Modern Family, Mitch and Cam take Lily to the doctor after she gets injured. The doctor is Asian, and Cam makes several clumsy remarks and gestures, only for her to repeatedly remind him that she's from Denver.
  • Parks and Recreation: Season 2's "The Stakeout" has Leslie trying to pin down Tom's origins. (He is Indian-American.)
    Leslie: You're not from here, right?
    Tom: No, I'm from South Carolina.
    Leslie: Right, but you moved to South Carolina from where?
    Tom: From my mother's uterus.
    Leslie: But you were conceived in Libya, right?
  • In Psych, the main character hires a Chinese-American assistant, fire him when they realize they have no need for one, and then consult him when they want to know about the local Chinese gangs. He tells them that he only speaks a few words in Chinese, and those are numbers.
    • Inverted when they investigate a soul food/Thai fusion restaurant and speak to a very white-looking employee with a thick Thai accent. They accuse him of faking the accent offensively, only for him to tell them he was adopted and that's his natural manner of speaking.
  • Bones:
    • In one episode, Angela (half-Asian) finds an inscription in Chinese on a piece of evidence. When Hodgins asks her to translate it, she pretends to do it and tells him, "Why does white man think I read Chinese?" Hodgins is surprised, having assumed her to know at least some Chinese. She doesn't.
    Hodgins: I thought you were half-Chinese.
    Angela: I think you're half-Swedish. Let's hear some Swedish.
    • Booth's brother Jared comes back from a trip to India with a new Indian girlfriend, Padme. After a double (not a) date with Bones, Booth comments that Padme's English is very good. She says "That's what happens when you grow up in Virginia." Jared then admits he set Booth up for it, since that's what little brothers do.
  • In Family Matters, Steve spends the day with Carl on what happens to be his monthly poker night. One of Carl's poker buddies is Asian, and Steve tries to make conversation by greeting him in Mandarin. The guy has no idea what he's saying, because he's from Nebraska.
  • In Zoey 101, after the Sushi Rox burns down and the owner Kazu says that he will be leaving PCA to go home, Nicole asks if he's going back to Japan, but Kazu replies that he's actually from Alabama.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Rey Mysterio Jr. has worked in Mexico, but is from Los Angeles. That has not stopped him from being the target of Jack Swagger and the xenophobic Real Americans. The same can be said of Eddie Guerrero, who was from El Paso Texas but was targeted by anti-Mexican JBL.
  • Vampiro wrestled in Canada for seven years and was even billed as "The Canadian Vampire Casanova" in IWA Japan but that hasn't stopped people from mistaking him for a Mexican. The fact that's he's worked in Mexico long enough to develop the accent doesn't help.
  • Despite being one of the most famous Canadian luchadoras of her time Sarah Stock, has been mistaken for a Mexican from time to time. TNA officially billed her as a Mexican at one point.
  • Primo Colon mistook Curt Hawkins and Zack Ryder for Canadians because they served as body doubles for Edge, who was Canadian.
  • The Insurance Policy April Hunter mistook Davina Rose for a Mexican at SHINE 4 when she and Shazza McKenzie(who is a foreigner) took on "her" tag team, Made In Sin.

    Stand-Up Comedy 
  • Margaret Cho addresses this in her comedy routines all the time, such as hatemail telling her to go back to her "home country", or TV personalities asking her to address the camera in her "native language", even though she was born and raised in San Francisco and is only fluent in English.
  • Henry Cho (no relation) is of Korean descent, but was born and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee and speaks with a southern US accent. Much of his comedy involves how nobody expects him to speak or act like a proud Southerner.

    Video Games 
  • Lisa Silverman from Persona 2 is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl of wholly Caucasian ancestry. However, she was born and raised in Japan. This doesn't stop her classmates from thinking she must know English or is a transfer student from America. This example is more understandable than most, however, since Japan is a very homogeneous country in real life and Lisa's situation is far from the norm.
  • Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag: Edward Kenway once asked his ex-slave quartermaster Adéwalé if he'd take his share of treasure from a fort they were about to attack and live like a king in Africa. Adéwalé clarifies that he's Trinidadian and has never set foot in Africa.

    Web Original 
  • In the Peking Duck Christmas episode of YidLife Crisis, Leizer assumes a Chinese waiter is a foreigner with poor English, but he turns out to be fluent in both English and Yiddish, and has been teaching his parents Yiddish while telling them it's English.

    Web Comics 
  • Ashley from El Goonish Shive, is ethnically Asian but her family has lived in America for generations and her accent is fully American. She still falls victim to this often including one time someone assumed she couldn't speak English and several times when people assumed she was a magical martial artist. The comic Lampshades the fact that Nanase does fit the latter description through a Sneeze Cut to her.
  • Dina in Dumbing of Age has been unable to get an autism disgnosis because the doctors her parents took her to all said that her apparent neurodivergency is just because English isn't her first language. Not only did she grow up in the US with English as her first language so did her parents.

    Western Animation 
  • David Rodriguez and his parents came to South Park to escape where they came from and opened up a Mexican Restaurant. During the episode 'You're Not Yelping', Kyle thought he came from Mexico that's when David revealed that he and his parents were escaping from the mean streets of Boise, Idaho.
  • Hey Arnold!: Phoebe's principal mistakes her for a foreign exchange student from the far off land of "Ken Ta Kay". Phoebe has Japanese heritage and stated she was born in the state of Kentucky.
  • In the "Vaya Cornholio" episode of Beavis and Butt-Head, Beavis is working at Burger World and morphs into his Cornholio personality. While doing so, an immigration officer comes in looking for illegal immigrants. Because his blonde hair is pulled back by his shirt, he's speaking Spanish-sounding gibberish, and he doesn't answer the officer's English questions, Beavis is mistaken for an illegal, and is deported to Mexico.

    Real Life 
  • After she spoke out about a spate of anti-Muslim sentiment, a columnist for Montreal's La Presse newspaper, Rima Elkouri, received several hate mail messages telling her to go back to where she came from. She wrote a scathing editorial called O.K.! Je retourne dans mon pays (OK! I'll return to my country!) where she offered to get on the metro and return to the northern Montreal neighbourhood where she was born.
  • Anyone who obviously not of the predominant racial and ethnic group of wherever they are, especially if they are of a very small minority, will likely be asked what country they're really from, even if they were born there. To avoid looking like a jackass, just accept their first answer as to where they're from; if they're actually foreign, they'll most likely tell you right off the bat.
  • 2014 Miss America Nina Davuluri was the first Indian-American to win the crown and faced a xenophobic backlash from racists who thought she was a foreigner, even though she was born and raised in Syracuse, New York. The fact that they mistook her for an Arabic Muslim in their ranting (Davuluri is Hindu) didn't help either.
  • While reading comments on his channel, Markiplier was taken aback by "Mark! Are you going to America soon?" He was born in Hawaii, grew up in Cincinnati, and currently resides in LA.
  • Katie Leung, best known for playing Cho Chang in the Harry Potter films, minces no words in saying how annoying she finds this trope. In London she often has cab drivers and other strangers comment on her perfect English. She's from Scotland.
  • Chinese-American Congressman Ted W. Lieu wrote in 1999 of his familiarity with this trope.
  • The "Mississippi Delta Chinese" are the descendants of migrant workers who moved to the Deep South after American Civil War due to the... job openings after the slaves were freed. This is an Asian-American community that has lived in the United States for generations, in a part of the country not commonly associated with Asians. One of the people interviewed in the linked video is a woman with a charming Southern accent, having been born and raised in Mississippi, and yet she constantly has people asking when did she move to the US and who taught her English.
  • In 2020, a person from Italy tweeted about an older Italian woman making several racist comments when a young Chinese man got onto their train. The man proceeded to inform her, in a perfect Roman accent, "Ma'am, I've only ever seen China on Google Maps."
  • A story from the UK has two hijab-wearing women chatting on a bus. A man turns to them and tells them that, since they're in Britain, they should speak English. Another woman nearby curtly informs him, "You're in Wales, and they're speaking Welsh."