When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Porsche 911s. Like every other kid, my mom and dad were my heroes — they drove me home from the hospital in a 911 after I was born, starting my lifelong obsession with cars.
In high school, my agenda had photos of 911s all over it, my locker was decorated with 911 cutouts, and there was a 911 Turbo poster above my bed, where other girls my age would have the Backstreet Boys or NSync plastered on their walls. I remember talking about 911s and how one day I would drive one, but then some guy said in a fake Chinese accent, “Yeah but you’re Chinese and you guys can’t drive, so it would be a waste.” That same kid and his friends would then make fun of my parents’ accents, knocking them off the pedestal I put them on. I didn’t know what else to do but laugh uncomfortably.
From that moment on, I buried my heritage and I wanted no part of it. I would throw away the lunches of rice or noodles my mom lovingly packed me in my little thermos, fearing I’d get made fun of. I would dissuade my mom from volunteering at my school so the kids wouldn’t hear her accent and make fun of her. I refused to speak Cantonese and I have since lost my ability to do so. I’d make fun of the Chinese kids with accents and I drew a hard line in the sand. “I wasn’t like those Asians.” At the same time, “those Asians” made fun of me for not being Asian enough. I was stuck in the middle with no clan to call my own.
Fast forward to today. I’m an automotive journalist, the editor in chief of my publication, and I have a big D Director title at work. I’ve been doing automotive journalism for more than 12 years and have a team of very talented journalists and freelancers reporting to me.
And yet I can’t post a video on YouTube without someone commenting that I’m taking jobs away from “qualified people,” that “Of course she chose the Korean car, she’s Korean” (I am, in fact, first-generation Chinese Canadian) or “This Asian chick doesn’t know anything about cars.” I even got a “me love you long time” once and was told that I “belong in the bedroom and not in a car review.” I thought we were over that. And I thought I was strong enough to overcome it. But it makes me feel like I did in high school when that kid so casually dismissed my 911 supercar dreams.
I want to fight back, but I don’t want to be that “angry Asian feminist,” so I put my head down and I work hard. I shouldn’t have to justify my existence; being good at what I do should be enough, right? Sadly, I don’t have that privilege.
Today, I’m sitting in the dark purple McLaren 720S, the British brand’s current flagship supercar. I’m beaming. The carbon fiber steering wheel fits perfectly in my hands, the dark plum leather sport seats form perfectly around my small frame, and the whine of the turbos spooling every time I mat the throttle gives me the giggles. Whenever I step out of the car, billionaire doors swooping upwards, I feel like everyone is watching. I feel like a boss.
I’m living my Crazy Rich Asian fantasy, and I’m still buzzing from seeing that momentous movie on opening weekend. I was fighting tears the whole time. It’s the first movie I’ve ever seen with an all-Asian cast. Having an all-Asian cast meant that there were no token stereotypical characters, no Asian who was just cast to play the role of the ugly nerd, sexy ninja lady, the submissive love interest, or insignificant prostitute — the people in this movie were real estate moguls, business people, professors, and powerhouse humans with real stories and a range of complicated emotions and experiences that are actually representative of real Asians. They switched between English, Cantonese and Mandarin throughout the movie, and some parts weren’t even subtitled. Those parts were just for us. I felt human, I felt equal, I felt worthy. And I felt proud.
It turns out that I’ve lived a lifetime of shame. Shame from being Asian. Shame from not being Asian enough. Shame from being an Asian female in a very male and very white industry. Shame when colleagues in the industry or viewers dismiss me because I don’t look like them. And it occurred to me that I wasn’t born with shame. The shame is projected from people who feel threatened and insecure and don’t want to see a person like me succeed. Seeing people who looked like me and shared similar cultural experiences as me in a big-budget Hollywood movie in an absolutely packed theater made me feel proud for the first time and made it OK for me to talk about why representation is so important in the movies, on TV, and in the automotive industry.
I didn’t buy this McLaren (I’m more of a Crazy Middle Class Asian) but the fact that I’m driving it makes me feel like I’ve succeeded — I’ve worked hard to get to this point in my career. But I still have a lot of work to do. People stare. They’re probably assuming I was born into money and got this supercar as a gift from my dad. They look confused when they see me driving it and not my boyfriend. No one will assume that I worked hard for it and they will think I’m a spoiled, stupid immigrant. And until someone sees an Asian woman driving a McLaren and thinks “she worked hard for that,” my work will continue to be difficult.
I think of how I would react to that kid in high school now that I can articulate why what he said was so crushing, and I wish anyone who ever doubted me could see me now with a 4.0L twin-turbocharged V8 roaring behind me, 720 horsepower at my command, surrounded in carbon fiber and leather, happy in my own skin, and being the boss I am.
I love noodles and dumplings. I’m no longer embarrassed by my love for Hello Kitty. I want everyone to meet my parents and I brag about them whenever I can. I tear up when I think about the sacrifices they made for me. For the first time, I love being Asian and I love being an Asian woman driving this incredible supercar. This dramatic McLaren 720S isn’t the car I dreamt about as a kid, but driving it made me realize that I shouldn’t have to apologize for who I am and what I do for a living. If even one Asian girl sees me doing what I do and feels inspired to live her truth, if I can make even one girl feel as proud and inspired as I felt while watching Crazy Rich Asians, that’s more important to me than having a McLaren or a 911 in the driveway.
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