I have a distinct memory of standing in line at a store with my mom when I was a kid. Someone gave us a once-over and then cut the line in front of us. Without any hesitation, my mom said confidently, “Excuse me, the line is back there. We were here first.” I froze, expecting a confrontation, but my mom was unshakable.
I’ll never forget how shocked that person looked after my mom addressed her. I asked my mom later why the woman was so upset even though she was the person who was being rude. My mom told me, “It’s because people never expect Chinese people to stand up for themselves.”
I didn’t realize it then, but my mom is (and always has been) an absolute boss. It also never occurred to me until now how much she made an impact on my career as an automotive journalist and how witnessing her being so confident and strong impacted me in ways I’m still uncovering.
Normalizing Her Seat at the Table
Cars have always been important to my family, and I’ve been surrounded by cool cars since I was a kid. For most of my life, my dad either worked at a car dealership or operated his own, so interesting cars were always in our driveway.
Many car enthusiasts, including myself, credit their fathers for sparking their love for cars, but I’m beginning to think my mom had an equal role in shaping my passion and career.
When my parents immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong in 1974, they quickly found friends by joining car clubs. One of the first things they did when they got to Canada (before even getting a driver’s license) was buy a Ford Mustang. Mustangs weren’t sold in Hong Kong back then, and as new Canadians, buying this pony car was a great first step for them to embrace living in a new country.
Together, my parents would join rallies, go on big road trips, and perform races or time trials with their car enthusiast friends. My mom learned how to drive with a manual transmission soon after coming to Canada and can still work three pedals to this day, even nearing 70 years of age.
“I learned how to drive standard because if I didn’t, then I wouldn’t have all that fun with your dad,” she said. It never occurred to her that it made her different in any way. She did it purely for her own enjoyment and never to “keep up with the boys.”
“The car clubs were mostly guys, and the wives never joined,” she told me. “I didn’t care that I was the only woman driving. I never thought of it that way – that people would be looking at me weird. I just wanted to have fun and do my own stuff.”
What blew my mind was that she never felt the need to explain herself to her male peers or justify her seat at the table. And when she was questioned, she stood up for herself and never shrunk back. By doing this, she helped pave the way for women automotive enthusiasts without even knowing it.
“If people don’t like you, don’t look down,” she said. “You have to show them you’re not afraid. You always have to stand up for yourself … saying nothing is worse.”
Laying Strong Foundations
My mom played a bigger role in my career choice than I ever gave her credit for. When I decided to become an automotive journalist, I did it because I loved cars and loved writing. At the beginning of my career, I never questioned whether or not I belonged, just like my mom. I didn’t even realize I was one of the only Asian women in my industry until other people started pointing it out. The condescending questions, the automatic “otherness,” and the assumptions hurled my way made me defiant.
I often think about how my mom told me back then that “people never expect Chinese people to stand up for themselves.” Beyond being a harmful stereotype that silences Chinese people and labels us as “quiet and submissive,” it manifests itself in other ways, too. It also means whenever someone doesn’t fit the stereotype, gatekeepers pop up attempting to keep us out of spaces we’re not typically seen. We need to stand up for ourselves and be visible in our chosen fields to normalize the fact that we belong everywhere: in car clubs, the automotive media, Hollywood, everywhere.
It’s because my mom stood up for herself, didn’t let stereotypes define her, and was an unapologetic automotive enthusiast that paved the way for me to become the automotive journalist I am today. My mom and other women like her have inspired me to be as authentically myself as possible and never feel the need to justify my seat at the table, a table that she and other tenacious women helped build but rarely get credit for.
I’ll always be grateful to her for laying those foundations, and I hope to make her proud by continuing her legacy of being a trailblazing automotive enthusiast.