Years ago, I was introduced to the stereotypes about female and Asian drivers when my college boyfriend and I were about to get into the car to go grocery shopping.
“I’ll drive,” he said. “I’m better. You’re a girl. And you’re Japanese. Asian drivers are the worst.”
I had not yet developed the vocabulary or skill to call him out on his sexism and racism. So I glared. “You’re Asian too,” I said. (His parents grew up in Punjab.) “And you get traffic tickets all the time.”
“That’s just because I drive fast. Look at your mom. She’s Japanese. She can’t drive on the freeway.”
This was true. She hates freeways and only goes on them if someone else will drive her. Like many urbanites who have the privilege of not having to commute, she thinks freeway drivers are batshit crazy. But at that time, I didn’t have any qualms about her driving. She schlepped us around town with regularity and ease. If anything, I was grateful to have two chauffeurs in the form of my parents.
Still, I internalized his comments and started noticing each time drivers who appeared to be Asian failed to use turn signals and drifted into my lane, drove 45 in a 60mph zone, or left their cars at rakish angles in parking spots. I began to worry about reinforcing stereotypes each time I make a minor mistake in driving. Every time I parallel park, I still look around to see if anyone is watching. If there is, I wonder how Japanese I look or–sadly–if I can pass as white. Sometimes, I put on sunglasses to hide my eyes. My heart races. I scold myself if I don’t execute a perfect two-point turn into the parking spot, which I almost never do.
It doesn’t help that my mom’s driving skills did, indeed, decline. Recently, she earned two traffic tickets in a single week for cruising through red lights. (“That wasn’t my fault,” she said. “I sped through the yellow like you’re supposed to. It’s not my fault it changes so quickly.”) Soon after, she drove into a stop sign on the street she’s lived on since 1995. (“It was in the way.”) When she drove me to her home so that I could recuperate after a surgery, she blithely took a sharp left turn into her neighborhood, missing oncoming traffic by the width of her car. I screamed. (“Stop being so dramatic.”)
The stop sign that was “in the way.”
Perhaps my ex was onto something.
My brother and I have used every trick in the book in asking her to be more mindful when driving: talking to her separately and together, using rational arguments, statistics, pleading, scolding, fear-mongering, and baiting with pastries and coffee–her vices–so that she’d loosen up. “You’re too emotional,” she’d sniff. “Get your lives in shape first. They’re more concerning than my driving.”
So it came as a surprise when an employee at the local supermarket with whom my mother and I regularly chat said to me this past weekend, “Your mom told me that she’s worried about her driving.”