May-lee Chai exposes the racist heartlessness of the heartland in her memoir of spending her teens in South Dakota (near the Pine Ridge reservation where someone perhaps other than Leonard Peltier shot two FBI agents a few years before the Chais moved there). She and her brother faced real danger from their fellow junior high and high school students, and several of the family’s dogs were killed on the Chai’s farm.
The memoir reads at times like a history, is not always linear, and leaves some things out--all things that might normally get on my nerves, but in this case it just gives you more respect for the author, her story, and her privacy. You also feel a bit outraged at her father for moving the family to South friggin’ Dakota from NYC. Actually I’m outraged at him for moving the family to NYC from California, as well.
I relate to Chai for age peer experiences like these:
Even TV dinners took fifty-five minutes to bake in the oven. p.60
We sang songs every day, learned non-violent methods of conflict resolution, and conducted dances under a surplus parachute, the kind that the military used to donate to public schools, so that almost everyone I’ve met in my generation, on both coasts, can remember those P.E. classes conducted under parachutes. p.174
And also for statements like this one:
Unfortunately, in 1979, on the cusp of a supposedly bright new decade, my father was as naive as most New Yorkers about the middle of the country, the so-called heartland, the place where small-town values still lived on. p.118
CATS: no, but a lot of dogs that come to a bad end. Also chickens, goats, and cows.