Of all her duties helping her parents manage their small grocery, Alice dreaded picking vegetables the most: the way the grit and dirt that covered the leaves and stems of the bok choy, napa, and watercress stained her hands with the grime of faraway places (PRODUCT OF CHINA, PRODUCT OF THAILAND, PRODUCT OF MALAYSIA) and stuck painfully under her fingernails.
Worse was when the kids at school made fun of her “dirty Chinese hands.”
Dirty Chinese hands! Dirty Chinese hands! Dirty, Dirty Chinese, they sang in their discordant, grade-school voices.
I’m not Chinese! Alice screamed at them. Such a lame comeback. But what else could she say? That her family owned the store downtown that sold the weird, smelly food? That she worked there every day after school? Things were bad enough.
Business, at least, was brisk. Alice’s mother often congratulated herself for her foresight in opening one of the few Asian groceries in the tri-city area, a hot spot for its immigrant enclaves.
“See? Mom is smart! Always do what Mom does,” she often boasted to Alice and her younger siblings, ten-year-old Linda and seven-year-old Bruce.
Yet despite Mrs. Nguyen’s repeated avowals, the family often found themselves tending to customers and stocking shelves while their mother napped in the back office or went on one of her many walks around downtown.
Alice often wondered what was behind her mother’s wearisome behaviour.