We were walking back from our city’s Freedom Festival parade. My boys biked ahead of us with bags full of candy, while my husband followed closely on foot. I pushed my daughter in her stroller a few feet behind them. There were other families and groups of people walking home and away from the activity the parade had left behind. It all felt like a happy glimpse of our little midwestern city that I’ve come to love. Flags waving, families together, sticky fingers, and kids on bikes riding freely on the street with no cars allowed, just this once.
That’s when I saw them. They stood out as they walked toward us, weaving through the people who were leaving, laughing and talking loudly. All three of them were tall, young men on the verge of adulthood. I acknowledged them as they passed with a smile, just as I had everyone else that we passed that day. The young man closest to us looked straight into my eyes, looked down at my flag-waving daughter, and then back up at me and said, “Ching-chong.” Then all three of the men laughed loudly.
I stared back at him while my mind slowly processed the two words that had just come out of his mouth. I looked down at my baby girl who was still proudly waving her stars and stripes, too young to have noticed or understood what just happened. My boys and husband were up further ahead at this point, and I was relieved they hadn’t heard the words. I kept pushing the stroller in silence as the ugly words and uglier tone and intent hung over me.