This week I finished Sightseeing, Thai Tales, and The Night Tiger. I’m still plugging away at Contes Populaires de Cambodge, du Laos, et du Siam—in fact I’m still reading the same story that I was last week (“Vorvong et Saurivong”), but I feel better about it because I realized this story makes up the entire second half of the book. So when I finish it, I’m done (thank God). I’ve gotten to the point where I’m assigning it to myself, like homework, and am only sticking it out because I’m so close to the end that I might as well finish it.
There are many ways in which America tells you you don’t belong. The eyes that slide around to find another face behind you. The smiles that appear only after you have almost passed them, intended for someone else. The stiffness in the body as you stand beside them watching your child and theirs slide down the pole, and the relaxed smile when another white mother comes up to talk. The polite distance as you say something about the children at the swings and the chattiness when a white parent makes a comment. A polite people, it is the facial muscles, the shoulder tension, and the silence that give away white Americans’ uneasiness with people not like them. The United States, a nation of immigrants, makes strangers only of those who are visibly different, including the indigenous people of the continent. Some lessons begin in infancy, with silent performances, yet with eloquent instructions.