THE SILENCE OF IMMIGRANT WOMEN
He said he was a cowboy. He assured me that he listened to what ladies told him, because ladies were smarter than him. Always. He looked about 58, and he sat on the table in the post office because his hip needed to be replaced and he could barely walk. He told the whole post office about it. He was in front of me in line. I told him to keep sitting there until it was his turn, and that I'd wait for him to get up and get to the clerk. He appreciated that. He said that was unusually kind. Then he continued talking loudly, making the entire line listen to his hip problems, and when his time came up to go to the counter, I waited for him to make his way, to the service clerk whom I know, as I’ve shipped many of my books before from this office. I’ll call her Mary.
Whenever I see Mary, we talk about our kids and vacations and books, and share our experiences on being immigrants—I'm from Russia, she's from South Korea. I said hello to Mary, walked up to the next service clerk, and was busy chatting with her and watching her type up the address into the system—it was her second day on the job, so we was careful and slow—when I picked up on the conversation Mary and Cowboy had.
“How do you say 'Thank you' in your native tongue?” Cowboy asked.
I saw Mary stiffen. She usually has a softness about her, and a youthfulness that's easy to notice, in the way she smiles, in the way she flips her bob to the side and tucks the hair behind her ear, like she is 20 in the body that’s maybe a little over 50 years old. But this question hurt her. It was the question that as an immigrant from Russia I usually avoid due to my European look and virtually no accent. Mary has a noticeable accent, and her eyes and hair are a dead giveaway that she is Asian. I knew why she stiffened. It was more than words. It was Cowboy's tone. He spoke down to her as to a circus animal. “Can you wiggle your tail for me?”