Bitter in the Mouth: How a Mockingbird Gave Birth to a Little Canary
In 1975 my family had come to the United States as refugees from the Vietnam War, and now there we were, four years later, sharing the same sight lines of detached houses with their well-tended lawns bordered by impatiens and yew shrubs that the media elites had of the Midwest, before they made it big and moved elsewhere. Never mind. My father still had a point. Centerville, Ohio, was a world away from Boiling Springs, North Carolina, the first place in the U.S. we had called home.
On the pages of To Kill a Mockingbird, I must have noted the similarities between Scout's hometown of Maycomb, Alabama, circa 1935, and Boiling Springs, North Carolina, circa 1975. The azaleas, the screened porches, the respect afforded to the baker of a really good layer cake, among all the other details, must have sounded just right to me. The leafy oak trees and the courthouse square must have reminded me of the same at the heart of nearby Shelby. I must have found in Atticus's words and actions a primer for understanding why the children of my small Southern town had taunted me for the color of my skin. Before I came to the U.S., I didn't even know that my skin had a color, and I could have never imagined that the color would be "yellow."
I write "must have" because I'm not certain of what I actually took away from the complex, multi-theme To Kill a Mockingbird after my first read of it. Except for this: I remember reading in my bedroom and experiencing the uncanny feeling that if I pulled the curtains back from the windows I would see the streets of Maycomb. Now of course, I can say that Harper Lee's writing -- so clear, precise, and pointed -- had "transported" me into Scout's milieu, but at the age of 11 I just knew that the feeling was akin to magic, and that a book had cast the spell.