I was sipping tequila with Charlie, the Laotian/Frenchman/Portuguese fellow, on a hill top in Mexico.
People like Charlie are why writers eavesdrop on conversations. Sometimes people’s stories are better than the ones writers dream-up. That this vaguely Asian-looking man was leading a pack of tourists on ATVs over jungle roads in Mexico was a little odd in and of itself. But appearances are deceiving and overrated.
Charlie (I did not bother to ask his original name for fear my southern tongue would mangle it) was a Laotian orphan. Laos, like much of South East Asia, was once a French colony. Despite relinquishing control of the turf in 1953, the French maintain both influence and presence, including revolving diplomats. Charlie’s adopted father was one of those, and his Portuguese mother made for a rather spectacular traveling show once they bugged-out, landing in Mexico for more diplomacy work.
“You a Chinaman,” his Mexicans classmates would taunt. Kids can be cruel … at least until someone is cruel to them, which either brings civil enlightenment or creates sociopaths. Were it not for taunting and lost love, Charlie might me one of the happiest fellows alive, but both took tolls. “I used to look in the mirror at home, crying and ask ‘Why do I look like this?’” Asians are still rare south of the border, I suspect because they did not escape poor countries in the east just to inhabit poor countries in the west. Charlie’s taunting did not end in childhood, though Mexican adults have not been as openly antagonistic.
“Americans simply didn’t care,” was Charlie’s assessment, having wandered up the west coast for college and a change of scenery. Perhaps California wasn’t the best exploration of cross-culture attitudes since the Left Coast has been home to Asians since the black tide swept a few folks out to sea and landed them from Vancouver to San Francisco (even ancient Aztec art shows people who appear to perpetually squint). “They didn’t even think I was Chinese … well, most didn’t. But Americans didn’t call me names.”
Speaking French, Portuguese, Spanish and English, Charlie could have Continue reading