Inside Out and Back Again

by

Thanhhà Lai

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Inside Out and Back Again can help.
The cowboy is ’s family’s sponsor when they arrive in the U.S. Though his name is actually Mr. Johnston, Hà never calls him this and only refers to him as her family’s cowboy. She does this because he wears a tall cowboy hat and cowboy boots, has a big belly, and smokes cigars—and in Hà’s mind, this means he’s a cowboy and must own a horse. In reality, though, he’s a car salesman and wants to sponsor Brother Quan so he can teach him to repair car engines. Hà experiences a major crisis when she finally asks the cowboy if she can ride his horse, and she learns from Quan that not only does the cowboy not own a horse, but that horses also say “neigh” in America, not “hee” like they do in Vietnam. The cowboy is very supportive of Hà’s family: he helps them settle in their own house, registers Hà for school, and regularly brings gifts. When Hà’s family becomes victims of racist threats, he also calls the police and introduces the family to their neighbors. His wife, though, isn’t nearly as welcoming or supportive—she refuses to even smile at Hà’s family until they agree to be baptized at the local Baptist church.

The Cowboy Quotes in Inside Out and Back Again

The Inside Out and Back Again quotes below are all either spoken by The Cowboy or refer to The Cowboy. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Harper edition of Inside Out and Back Again published in 2011.
Part 2: At Sea Quotes

Then by chance Mother learns
sponsors prefer those
whose applications say “Christians.”

Just like that
Mother amends our faith,
saying all beliefs
are pretty much the same.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), Mother, The Cowboy, The Cowboy’s Wife
Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3: Alabama Quotes

I bite down on a thigh;
might as well bite down on
bread soaked in water.

Still,
I force yum-yum sounds.

I hope to ride
the horse our cowboy
surely has.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), The Cowboy
Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:

No, Mr. Johnston
doesn’t have a horse,
nor has he ever ridden one.

What kind of a cowboy is he?

To make it worse,
the cowboy explains
horses here go
neigh, neigh, neigh,
not hee, hee, hee.

No they don’t.

Where am I?

Related Characters: Brother Quang (speaker), Kim Hà (speaker), The Cowboy
Page Number: 134
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Inside Out and Back Again LitChart as a printable PDF.
Inside Out and Back Again PDF

The Cowboy Character Timeline in Inside Out and Back Again

The timeline below shows where the character The Cowboy appears in Inside Out and Back Again. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 3: Alabama
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Bullying, Racism, and Self-Doubt Theme Icon
...and her family members are giddy as they get off the plane in Alabama. Their cowboy takes them to his huge house surrounded by a perfect green lawn. He invites them... (full context)
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Bullying, Racism, and Self-Doubt Theme Icon
English Above All. Hà and her family spend all their time in the cowboy’s basement, where they don’t see the cowboy’s wife. Hà has to stand on a chair... (full context)
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Culture, Food, and Tradition Theme Icon
American Chicken. The cowboy brings most food wrapped in plastic or canned. Any meat comes chopped up and frozen.... (full context)
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Family and Grief Theme Icon
American Address. The cowboy finds Hà’s family a house on Princess Anne Road and pays three months’ rent. Mother... (full context)
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Culture, Food, and Tradition Theme Icon
...the mismatched sofas, chairs, stained mattresses, and mismatched dishes. Everything has been donated by the cowboy’s friends. Hà’s family has always had lovely furniture and matching dishes, even when they were... (full context)
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Culture, Food, and Tradition Theme Icon
Bullying, Racism, and Self-Doubt Theme Icon
Neigh Not Hee. Since Brother Quang is tired of translating, the cowboy takes Hà to register for school. Hà figures he’ll let her ride his horse. She... (full context)
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
On the walk home, Hà works up her courage and asks the cowboy, “You, hor-ssssse? / Hee, hee, hee. / I go, go.” The cowboy shakes his head,... (full context)
Family and Grief Theme Icon
Bullying, Racism, and Self-Doubt Theme Icon
...her bloody fingers, and that Brother Quang wasn’t so angry after work. She wishes the cowboy would buy a horse. Hà wishes she could be invisible until she could speak, and... (full context)
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Culture, Food, and Tradition Theme Icon
Bullying, Racism, and Self-Doubt Theme Icon
Neighbors. When someone throws eggs at Hà’s front door, the cowboy says it’s “Just dumb kids.” He says the same when people hang toilet paper from... (full context)
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Bullying, Racism, and Self-Doubt Theme Icon
...their doors, Brother Quang, Vu Lee, and Brother Khôi’s faces turn red. But when the cowboy leads them to the house to their left, the older woman there hugs everyone. She... (full context)
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Culture, Food, and Tradition Theme Icon
HA LE LU DA. The cowboy says that the neighbors would be more polite if the family agrees to something at... (full context)
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Culture, Food, and Tradition Theme Icon
Bullying, Racism, and Self-Doubt Theme Icon
...had her turn, she and her family get dressed and line up next to the cowboy and his wife, who’s now smiling. She smiles bigger as people kiss Hà’s cheeks. Hà’s... (full context)
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Culture, Food, and Tradition Theme Icon
Bullying, Racism, and Self-Doubt Theme Icon
Cowboy’s Gifts. The cowboy likes to bring gifts. Mother loved the live catfish the best, and it tasted wonderful... (full context)
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Bullying, Racism, and Self-Doubt Theme Icon
Cowboy’s Response. Just before school, the cowboy arrives at Hà’s house—MiSSSisss WaSShington told him about the pancake incident. Now, the cowboy, MiSSSisss... (full context)
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Culture, Food, and Tradition Theme Icon
Early Christmas. Mother invites the cowboy and MiSSSisss WaSShington for egg rolls a few days before Christmas. The guests don’t want... (full context)