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

He’s Just Not That into You . . . or Your Race

by Marisha

I attended a private Carden curriculum school from kindergarten through eighth grade. It was a cozy school, very small, with nothing but a small green field track and some fixed-up gray trailers we used for classes. I loved every minute of it.

School Grounds

The Fixed-Up Buildings and Playground

There was this boy who I will call “Dan,” in the interest of discretion. I grew up with him, we had play dates at each other’s houses, even played “house” where we would pretend to be husband and wife in his parents’ bedroom and imagine we lived in a beautiful house and made lots of money. He was a really nice kid, so cute, and he seemed to like me! We got along and I made all the girls jealous. We used to write notes back and forth:  “Do you like me? Circle yes or no.” I always made a box for “maybe.” I was a heartbreaker back then. Clearly, we were meant to be.

As we got to middle school, we had moved on from our crushes on one another and were great friends. By then, I had found two other guys I was sure I was going to marry. I guess I was a romantic even back then.

Middle school was a great time for me. I was extremely accepted, with lots of friends.  There were plenty of boys who thought I was the bee’s knees ;). I was never discriminated against, and I never felt that “different” feeling that I seem to feel so often now.

Middle School Performing Arts

The School Play

The situation happened after school one day in 8th grade. We were waiting for our parents to pick us up.  To kill time I asked Dan how he and his “girlfriend” Lauren were doing. He gave a short, nondescript answer, so I joked, “Well, she better not be better than when I was your girlfriend.” I thought I was funny, even though secretly, I wanted confirmation from him.

But no confirmation followed. Instead, he responded, “Well, I like her more because she’s blonde.”

… ummm what??? How did that have anything to do with liking someone?? Was that a dig at my ethnicity or a dig at my character? I was so confused I didn’t really know how to respond, so I just stayed silent. And like most boys, he continued….

“I mean, come on, Marisha. I’m only into blondes and brunettes. That’s just who I see myself with in my future.”

I remained silent.

“Hey, I hope I didn’t hurt your feelings. I still think you are really cool.”

I can’t repeat what I was thinking.  The only thing I could mutter was “Well, I’m brunette.”

He should have just shut his mouth, but he put the icing on the cake with, “Well, yeah, but you’re not white.”

I walked away. We ended up going to the same high school, but I never really spoke to him again.

Looking back, I realize he was young.  The best part is he probably doesn’t remember even saying that. But to say it didn’t initiate my struggle with looking different from the “blondes and brunettes” would be a lie. It was my first experience with “discrimination,” not to mention the hurt caused because it was from a good friend of mine. That SAME friend who I used to play “house” with. What irony. Ignorance is the only thing I can pinpoint. I’ll never forget that experience, but it prepared me for a lot of experiences that were coming in my future.

I feel that I have a little stigma now.  I always assume that guys are looking at my friends and not me. But I know I’m being insecure in those moments. Still, I am confident and NOT afraid to share the skeletons in my closet. MORE TO COME ….

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