Taxi Driver

by Nina Schidlovsky

“Japanese women are so beautiful,” the Hong Kong taxi driver said. He slowed the cab suddenly to admire two willowy women gliding by. Their stiletto heels pushed them towards heaven. “Not like Filipina women,” the driver continued. “Filipino women are dirty and ugly.”

The hair on the back of my neck bristled. Instantly, Mom’s arms crushed me in a protective embrace. I thought of the wonderful Filipina woman who lived with us as a helper, and the thousands of other Filipinos who worked in Hong Kong, where we’d been living for two years.

“I’m Filipina,” I replied flatly.

I watched the rear view mirror as the taxi driver’s eyes widened. He bumbled and fumbled his apologies but his words fell between the seat cushions—heavy, forced, and laden with deserved embarrassment.

I was nine years old, and that was the first time I’d encountered any form of racism with my mom right beside me – though I had had some unpleasant encounters with bratty schoolmates. Since before I can even remember, my Caucasian mother had told me I was beautiful and to be proud of my different skin color and heritage.

But I’m not going to lie. Sometimes I wasn’t proud of it. For awhile all I wanted to be was a fair-skinned blonde, blue-eyed all-American girl. I remember standing in front of the bathroom mirror, and shutting my eyes so tightly that I saw spots. I wished as hard as I could that when I opened my brown eyes, blue would be staring back at me.

Thankfully, this was a phase that I got over. By the time Mom and I got in that taxi, I knew I was beautiful even though I was different from the rest of my family and from my early picture of perfection.

Mom and I were in the middle of Hong Kong, a 10-minute drive from home. I’d verbally stood my ground with the taxi driver. But no way were we going to let him off that easily – or let him get his full fare. “Pull over,” Mom demanded. She tossed a couple of wadded-up bills at him, grabbed my hand and pulled me out of the cab.

I don’t remember the taxi driver who took us the rest of the way home. But I do remember the one whose racism strengthened my pride and sense of self.

Nina, Lennie, John & Corky in Hong Kong

Comments

  1. Lisa DeNike Ercolano says:

    Nina, thank you for sharing your story with us. My overwhelming feeling reading this is not just anger at the taxi driver (though there’s that, for sure!) but rather, how impressed I am that, at the age of 9, you had the guts and sense of self to speak up. That strikes me as nothing short of incredible and noteworthy.

    • Nina Schidlovsky says:

      Thank you Lisa. That means a lot to me because I really did struggle to find that sense of self. But I’m glad that I found it by the time I got into that cab!

  2. Never afraid to speak her mind – our beautiful daughter!

  3. Nina, thanks for sharing that intense story. Your mom’s response was right on!

  4. hey girl! I loved your story. It’s amazing the ignorance of people, isn’t it? I love your reaction to it, even at such a young age. I would have reacted the same exact way! Thanks so much for sharing your story and blogging on my mum and I’s blog! So excited to read about other stories I can totally identify with! x

    • Nina Schidlovsky says:

      Thanks a lot! I loved your piece too about the tsunami Starbucks barista. At least that person meant well!

  5. You couldn’t be more gorgeous, Nina. You know my rule about being in front of the camera…your beauty (and your mom’s beauty) shines right from the inside out.

  6. From the day we met our daughter Nina as an under-three-pound preemie in a neonatal intensive care unit, we knew she had strength and inner fire. We just didn’t know all the ways those qualities would show themselves! That taxi episode is as memorable and meaningful for me as it is for Nina.

  7. Reblogged this on Don't We Look Alike?.

  8. Boy do I know that feeling! As a eurasian, I’ve encountered racism from both sides, it’s really disappointing and hurtful how ignorant and narrow-minded people can be, and you can feel so trapped and vulnerable to labels. But ultimately, their warped opinions don’t matter, the only thing that does is your relationship to yourself, and with those around you who care for you and see you for who you really are. Could you honestly say that those racist neanderthals would be the last thing you’d think about if you had only one day to live? Not likely 🙂

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