May-Lee Chai, Hapa Girl

“Things I learned from kids in school: …people with dark skin looked like that because they were dirty. Dark-skinned dirty people were more likely to be criminals than anyone else. …Mixed-race people are signs of the End Times, when the Anti-Christ would return and rule on earth for a thousand years of bloodshed and turmoil. The presence of my brother and me in school and in town was definitely Not a Good Sign” (80).

“By the time I was fifteen and a half, I had given up trying to fit in here. I was merely trying to survive. The stares people gave me were changing. Now grown men sidled up to me on the sidewalk, came up to me after church gatherings, at community picnics, at wedding receptions. They wanted to tell me about the hookers they’d known in Vietnam, on R&R in Thailand, in the Philippines, in Taiwan” (138).

These quotes caught my eye in May-Lee Chai’s, Hapa Girl. The book primarily circles around the story of Chai’s parents, and their triumphs and fails as a nomadic family. One of the roughest places socially for May-Lee and her brother Jeff is in South Dakota, where their family settles on a farm while the father works at a university. The top quote comes from that period in Chai’s life – from the children of that Midwestern school. There is such an interesting dynamic between her parents; and the struggle for them to be successful in the academic world pulls the narrative along.

Check out May-Lee Chai’s website for more about the book, her bio, and an interview of her reading from it.

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