Advice From the Daughter of an Immigrant
The smirk on his face should've tipped me off.
"Hello, young lady. Have a seat."
I step into his office and notice his student aide is there as well, casually leaning against the wall.
"So, I just got off the phone with your mom. She says you need to be excused early so that you can go to the dentist."
I nod, unsure why this warrants a conversation when I'd normally just take my early dismissal slip and go back to class.
"Where is she from? That accent... WOW."
"Thailand," I respond.
"I could barely understand a word she was saying." He waits expectantly, still smirking. He glances at his aide, who is trying to hide a smile as well.
I'm sure my face is red, but I say nothing. His smirk falters slightly, but it rallies as a fresh wave of smugness hits him. I can see it in the shine of his rat-faced beady eyes.
"Well, why didn't she send in a note with you? That's usually the normal procedure."
"I know, but she got home late from work last night and she forgot to do it before she went to bed. She was still asleep this morning when I left for school, so I wrote her a note and reminded her to call."
He mulls that over for a moment then picks up his pen and signs my dismissal slip. He starts to hand it to me and then pauses.
"Next time, make sure she sends in a note so that I don't have to talk to her. That was rough. And I really don't have the time to be spending on the phone that long. It'll make it easier on both of us if I don't have to talk to her again."
I'm angry, but I say nothing. I'd die before giving him the satisfaction of a reaction. I walk out of his office with their snickers trailing behind me.
16-year-old high school me had already formed an aloof armor, ready to shield me from everyone and everything. I knew that often the best response to many situations was no response at all. People lose steam and interest quickly when you don't engage. It was how I survived most of middle and high school. My introverted nature, Latinx appearance, and Thai/Italian background always instantly placed me in the "other" category of any group I was in and I'd always rather be ignored than the center of any kind of attention. So, saying nothing was my best defense at the time.
But my 35-year-old self has some choice words for that asshole of a school administrator. While my introverted nature hasn't changed, I'm more than ready and willing to call out someone for their despicable behavior. If I could go back in time, we would have had a very different conversation.
That was almost 20 years ago and I find that not much has changed in the way of tolerance for people from other countries. My mother was born in Thailand and moved to the States in her early 20s. She became a naturalized citizen. She's worked hard every day of her life. Whatever our differences are regarding our relationship, I never ever wanted for anything growing up.
But it seems that's not enough. There are those who often say, "This is America! We have nothing against immigrants. Just come here legally. Get a job. Speak English." Check, check, and check. And yet, at the first hint of an accent, the smirks and jokes and exasperation inevitably always follow. I've lost count over the years at how many people will laugh in her face, or walk away, or make a big scene, or address me instead of talking to and making eye contact with her.
Do they realize how much courage it takes to come to another country as an adult, go through the immigration process, and learn another language? It's not easy, especially when people treat you the way they treat her.
I don't have some light bulb moment to tie this all up in a bow. Because she's 63 now and nothing has changed. I guess my advice is this: have a little patience. Sure, it might take you a few minutes longer to figure out what she's saying or what she needs help with, but it means the world when people don't write her off immediately. It means the world when people actually listen. It means the world to feel heard and accepted.
P.S. Karma is a bitch. That administrator eventually went on to be a principal at another school and was removed a few years ago and put in a position where he doesn't deal with students. So... I guess he has a lot of time to talk on the phone now, huh? I should track him down and have my mom call him - ya know, for old times' sake.