The story opens with half of a house being hauled down the road. The first-person narrator is driving behind the house and imagines stiff legged people sitting inside not unlike in a doll house. Then she sees four black haired girls walking down the street. All five are from India. However, the narrator was last there before being adopted at seven months old by a white American couple from Wyoming.
The narrator helps the other Indian college students with rides and hauling their purchases to their student housing. She wants to get to know them and be included and seen by them as an Indian woman but they don't see her that way. She dresses in western cowboy boots and "ranch girl jeans." Even her boyfriend doesn't see her as "brown."
The story is about identity and place. How is identity identified or recognized or parsed by others as well as ourselves? How do we construct identity and how do we build memories? Are they indeed built? And, are they transformed? How much of our identity is constructed by others and is out of our control? How much does place have to do with building identity? If something is repeated often enough, do we embrace, accept, believe it? How does it affect us when we are rejected by the very group we long to belong to? What causes us to long for a place we've barely known?
Another theme is hypocrisy of the father figure, a veterinarian who says that "exotic" animals shouldn't be raised in Wyoming. He doesn't seem to equate the forced removal of Ranjani, now named Faith, as the same sort of act. "'People should not keep exotic pets in this place.'" People had started using llamas to guard sheep. "It was always away from the group, looking and watching...People stick to their own kind. And when they don't have kind. Then they are exotic." Ranjani, Faith, doesn't have her own kind so she watches from outside. Life is most difficult or challenging for the trail blazers but also the most rewarding and enriched, maybe. What a great story!
"Cowboys and East Indians" was first published in the Virginia Quarterly Review. Then was the second story in McConigley's collection of the same title. Cowboys and East Indians won the 2014 PEN Literary Award.
the author's web page