The Minority

Can you believe an Asian woman like me with dark hair, dark eyes and round face is considered an Englishman? Or can you believe as a tourist you cannot openly take photos of where you are or stare at the local riders in the horse and buggy?

On one of my visits to the Amish country in Western Pennsylvania, I was drawn to the multi-colored, handmade quilts hanging outside a white wooden house. A tourist’s instinct was to take a snapshot. I, too, held up my camera, angling the right direction to capture both the plain house and the quilts on the porch. As I was about to press the shutter, a female voice pealed from a gap of a half-open door, “No photo please!” I was startled, diverting my gaze from the camera. A thirty-something woman in a milky-blue, plain-cut dress and a white apron stood at the door. As I looked at her closely, she immediately shut the door and hid behind the curtained window. Her bonneted head showed from behind the curtain. All I remember was her unpleasant frown like the one we have when a salesman knocks on our door. Not until I walked away from her property did she pull down the curtain. My heart thumped fast. I had never been treated so coldly when taking photos. Why was the woman so mean to me?

Later I learned that the plainness-pursuing Amish people do not like to be involved with the outside world. That means to the Amish, all those who are non-Amish are known to them as English. I’m sure my sightseeing in their territory is an intrusion, an unwelcome trespass. I’m an outsider in this self-contained world where men sow on the land, women sew at home.

Largely sharing a Swiss-German ancestry, the Amish are a distinguished minority in the U.S.. They refuse to use modern facilities: no electricity, no automobiles, no fancy clothes. Their simple lifestyle not only attracts the other American citizens but aliens from all over the world. To some extent, the Amish are aliens to us Englishmen.

Before I came to the U.S., I knew of the Amish from the movie Witness starring Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis. However, my experience in Amish country arouses my curiosity. How can they get away from temptation in an affluent country which offers so many conveniences and choices? Why doesn’t Americanized globalization affect the Amish country as profoundly as it affects China which is ten thousand miles away from the U.S.?

Yet, along with hunger, money sometimes trumps conviction. When I was in Berlin, Ohio, I passed by an open-minded, blue-clad Amish family selling homemade pies, maple syrup and handicrafts at a street stand. The aromatic pies easily wavered my determination to lose weight. After a second thought, I walked back to the stand and attempted to make a purchase from the brown-bearded Amish man. Upon seeing my return, he greeted me with a jocular question, “Having guilty conscience?” I grinned and happily picked up an eight inch strawberry and rhubarb pie and a jar of maple syrup. He humbly received the green notes from me, a gratifying deal for both of us.


Filed under: Prose, Songyi Zhang's America