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Where Y'all Really From: Origin Story

Leanne Gan

It’s a question all Asian Americans get at least once: "Where are you from?"

"No, but where are you really from?”

This new podcast from the Louisville Public Media Podcast Incubator focuses on the tens of thousands of Asian-American folks whose answer is, “I'm from Kentucky!”

For the very first episode of "Where Y'all Really From," the whole team gathered for a good old fashioned origin story. It's your chance to meet the people behind the show and find out: How did this happen? Why are we doing it? And how do they answer when people ask them, "Where y'all really from?"

Nima Kulkarni

Rep. Nima Kulkarni is an immigration attorney, and the first Indian American to be elected to statewide office in Kentucky. She said she was inspired to run when anti-immigration sentiment rose to the forefront of national politics.

"I saw some of that rhetoric kind of trickling down into our local and state politics," Kulkarni said. "And I was looking around and seeing that there was no representation, and nobody really standing up to all of that. And that's really why I took the leap and ran against a 20-year incumbent because I thought, you know, something needs to change and this is the time. The time felt right."

Where's she really from?

"When somebody asks me that, even if it's in earnest, I get really tired really quickly. And I refuse to answer anything but Louisville, or Kentucky, or wherever I am in my district," Kulkarni said. "They really have to work to pry it out of me that I wasn't born here. I can't help myself."

Mae Suramek

Mae Suramek is a social entrepreneur who owns three restaurants in Berea. After the murder of six women of Asian descent in Atlanta, Suramek and Kulkarni were on the KET talk show "Connections," to talk about anti-Asian hate and the racist rhetoric around the COVID-19 pandemic. When the show was over, they both felt there was still much more to say. Kulkarni called Suramek, and six months later, a podcast was born.

"We knew that we needed a safe space for our community, from the different regions or different corners of Kentucky," Suramek said. "Space for all the diverse AAPI community members to gather and have a voice."

Where's she really from?

"When I was younger—in my teenager, even college years—I would just sigh and give them what they want: I'm from Thailand, although I was born in Chicago, raised in Chicago, lived most of my life here," Suramek said. "But in more recent years, when I'm asked that question, I will say, 'Well, I was born in Chicago, but I have a feeling that that's not what you mean, when you're asking me where I'm from ... I think what you really want to know is where my family of origin is from?' And then I say that we're Thai."

Dan Wu

Dan Wu is a business owner and activist in Lexington. "We've been in this country to varying degrees for a couple hundred years now. And a lot of our stories have just not really been told," Wu said. "And especially in a place like Kentucky, people don't think about Asians in Kentucky. And I think all of us in our own way are trying to change that."

Where's he really from?

"Sometimes I will literally, if it is a stranger completely out of context asking me where I'm from, I'll just kind of pause, wait an awkward few seconds, and say, 'Why do you ask?'" Wu said. "That kind of stops a lot of people in their tracks and maybe makes them interrogate, you know, and maybe makes them realize their innocent question doesn't come off so innocently."

Charlene Buckles

Charlene Buckles is a Louisville-based activist and development director of the ACLU of Kentucky. "When Dan tagged me in on this project I was about three months postpartum, and I really didn't know what to do. Usually I'm trying to activate and organize when things like [the Atlanta murders] happen," she said. "I really didn't know if I was ready to engage in that level. But I wanted to create something that was meaningful and to give a voice to those whose stories are untold or overlooked in Kentucky. And I think this podcast is just a great space to do that."

Where's she really from?

"Sometimes I just want to mess with people and just say, 'I'm from Northern Kentucky, I grew up in Northern Kentucky,'" she said. "And they're like, well, where are you from? And I'm, like, Hebron. And then other times, because, it's exhausting to try to explain yourself all the time, I say, 'I was born in the Philippines, in Manila, and I grew up in Northern Kentucky since I was seven years old.'"

Laura is LPM's Director of Podcasts & Special Projects. Email Laura at lellis@lpm.org.