In The Wednesday Wars, why do the other kids make rude remarks about Mai Thi?

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dymatsuoka | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Mai Thi is subjected to rude remarks and other cruelties because the country is suffering from the effects of the War in Vietnam, and Mai Thi is a Vietnamese refugee. She is a victim of scapegoating; because she looks like the enemy, people associate her with them, and unfairly take out their anger and grief on her. Scapegoating, and racial profiling, are, sadly, common reactions in times of war, as people in their pain tend to stereotype and not see the individual as separate from the group. In Wednesday Wars, as the news from Vietnam grows increasingly grim, refugees like Mai Thi are persecuted because of their resemblance to the enemy.

War is a terrible thing, and as people suffer losses beyond comprehension, even normally compassionate and clear-thinking individuals can be driven to try to alleviate their torment by lashing out at those who look like the ones who are hurting them. When Mrs. Bigio's husband is killed in Vietnam and his funeral is held at St. Adelbert's, the Catholic Relief Agency, which houses Vietnamese refugees like Mai Thi, is vandalized, and at Christmas, a time which is heartrending difficult for Mrs. Bigio, who must endure the holidays for the first time without her husband, uncharacteristically lashes out at Mai Thi, telling her,

"You shouldn't even be here, sitting like a queen in a refugee home while American boys are sitting in swamps on Christmas Day. They're the ones who should be here. Not you."

Mrs. Bigio is above all a good-hearted and loving person, however, and tries to make amends as soon as she realizes what she has done in her grief. When Mai Thi reacts courageously when the rats Sycorax and Caliban get loose in the classroom, she is again subject to cruel comments relating to her ethnicity and using rats as food, and told,

"Why don't you go back home where you can find some?"

Mrs. Bigio, now once again able to see Mai Thi as the innocent child she is, cooks a Vietnamese delicacy that she can share with her class, to promote appreciation of her culture and reestablish harmony and understanding in a time of pain.

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