"Chinese, Japanese." Frankie pulled at the edges of his eyes so they looked like slits. "Americanese!" He let his eyes spring back to normal.
"I am not Chinese!" Oy wanted to say. But she just shook her head slightly. She put her hands over the picture she'd been drawing.
Miss Elsa had her back turned, helping other children clean out the hamster cage.
Liliandra was holding the straw-colored hamster, Butterscotch. She transferred him from one bent elbow to the other as he tried to scratch her with his tiny claws.
Oy hoped that one day Miss Elsa would allow her to hold Butterscotch, but she'd never asked. Other children always seemed to crowd around the cage first.
Frankie teased Oy when Miss Elsa wasn't looking. Because she was new, Oy didn't know whether to talk to her teacher about this or not. Maybe it wasn't serious. Maybe being thought Chinese wasn't a bad thing even though Frankie was trying to make her think so.
"Then what are you?" asked Frankie, putting both hands in his pockets, where he kept his special trading cards.
She was about to say: Thai. From Thailand. A country near China, but not China. A country with elephants and green jungle. But Frankie was already talking to Santiago instead.
Miss Elsa turned around. Oy uncovered her picture. It showed her family. But instead of giving them straight black hair and almond-shaped eyes, she'd chosen the brown crayon for the hair and had made the eyes round as coins.
At her old school, no one had said anything to her about being Asian. But since her family had moved across town and she had to go to fourth grade in a new school after the year had begun, this boy Frankie was already bothering her.
"What are you drawing?" Frankie continued. "It couldn't be you and your family. They're all Chinese. Those people look Mexican."
Mexican? She was trying to make them look American. She glanced up at Frankie's eyes. If only she had eyes like all the others, Frankie wouldn't be teasing her.
Because of Frankie, kids on the playground called her China, Spanish for Chinese, or sometimes Chinita, little Chinese.
Before Oy came from Thailand, she'd looked at pictures of Americans. They had light hair and skin and eyes. When she'd arrived in America though, she saw people of all colors, including very dark ones with black curly hair and even Thai people. Here at school, the children were mostly brown with round eyes.
Just then Liliandra let go of Butterscotch with a squeal. Frankie jumped forward to grab the furry body scampering past his sneakers. When he picked up the hamster, he turned toward Oy. For a moment, it seemed that he would reach out and hand her the soft little animal. But he walked away instead, making a show of stroking and cooing to Butterscotch.
THE GOLD-THREADED DRESS by Carolyn Marsden. Copyright (c) 2006 by Carolyn Marsden. Published by Candlewick Press, Inc., Cambridge, MA.