Further cementing his reputation for xenophobia and cavalier political incorrectness, Republican presidential candidate and mogul Donald Trump had what NPR is calling a “Where are you from?” moment on Monday.
During the No Labels Problem Solver Convention in New Hampshire, Trump was criticized by Korean-American Harvard student Joseph Choe over alleged misinformation in the candidate’s statements on South Korea-United States relations:
There was some silence before Choe got the microphone. Trump started to grow impatient, urging Choe to just shout out the question.
“He’s choking!” Trump jabbed. Choe finally started to ask his question.
“Basically, you said that South Korea takes advantage of the United States in terms of the defense spending on the Korean Peninsula,” he began. “I just want to get the facts straight.”
Although Choe never got a chance to ask a question, Trump had one of his own:
“Are you from South Korea?” he wondered aloud.
“I’m not,” Choe said. “I was born in Texas, raised in Colorado.”
That prompted some in the audience to laugh.
He tried to go on, but wound up not getting out a question, but a statement instead. “No matter where I’m from, I like to get my facts straight,” Choe said before being cut off.
Although it probably appeared benign to Trump, the question is a really problematic one. Trump had no reason, outside of his assumption of Choe’s ethnicity, to assume Choe’s national origin, but did anyway. This version of a “Where are you from?” question, said sociologist Jennifer Lee in a statement to NPR, reflects the margnialization non-white Americans constantly face over whether they’re “really” American:
“It seems like this innocuous question, like people are just asking your identity,” Lee said, “but they’re really challenging this idea of who is American, which is, at the core, an offensive question. It’s this persistent perception that Asian-Americans are not American, that they are perpetual foreigners.”
As far as Choe goes, he said he’s not supporting Trump for president in 2016, but he wants him to know, “I’m as American as it gets.”
Choe elaborated on the isolation he felt at the convention:
“I don’t care who you are, whether you’re the prime minister or Donald Trump, if you say something factually wrong or do something factually wrong, I’ll call you out on it,” Choe said. “[Trump] makes all these, like, weird accusations, whether it’s toward Mexicans or women, or South Koreans; I just wanted to call him out on that.”
A fellow conference attendee who walked by Choe joked, “You’re gonna have to show him your birth certificate, man!”
For reference on the xenophobic nature of such questioning, here are two great videos from comedians Hari Kondabolu and Ken Tanaka: