The keys to my Mazda are faulty right now. I didn’t think electronic sets could be capable of this, but yesterday morning I was locked out of my car while it was running, my young daughter in my arms. The wind blows mere blocks from where an Asian mother was harassed earlier this week. I panic for the first time since a man called my father a “chink” in a mall parking lot when I was little.

Reason tries to tell me I am safe, attacks like this are rare. Instinctually, I look around, trying to find safety in numbers. It doesn’t work for the simple reason that I don’t find many neighbors who look like me. In Toronto, where I was born and raised, hate crimes happen plenty, but being one of 700,000 Chinese inhabitants provided comfort.

I find myself thinking of scenarios where I might need a knife, a gun. I kick myself for not sticking with my Taekwondo training as a child. I gave it up because it was “too Asian,” and I figured jazz and tap dance would plop me into the popular crowd, smoothing my face into something it wasn’t. I laugh now thinking of how jazz hands or a heel-step ball-change could get me out of an attack. I mean, maybe.

Anger takes over when I’m in these spirals. I consider decorating my entire car in bright red tassels, jade pendants from my grandparents dangling in my rearview mirror. Maybe order a vanity plate, “I’M HOME,” engraved on it. Maybe I should blast Chinese music from my car stereo and dare onlookers to stare. As quickly as these fantasies arise within me, they also deflate. I think about how that just makes me a target, my daughter’s car seat a target. I feel sick, as if the bottom of my stomach is missing. I put my hat on, pull my mask up, feeling safer in the disguise that COVID has both given me and robbed me of.

Keep your head down and work. Hold your chin high and fight. Can you do both? I was raised by a Chinese father and an Irish Canadian mother; the conflicts inside me started young. “Work hard, stay quiet” was our ancestral motto. In Toronto, my grandparents had the luxury of being in a city that was drenched in Chinese culture. My parents took us a step further, diving head first into the melting pot. I’m a second-generation woman from China, a first-(and-a-half?)-generation Canadian, and now, because why not, a permanent resident alien of the USA.

Childhood friends tried to squash my fears of sticking out with compliments and suggestions. “You’re lucky you can pronounce the letter L!” “Try this mascara, you’ll look less Asian!” “Maybe ask your dad for a PB&J sandwich tomorrow.” I made it my credo to be an excellent driver. My fear has kept me from any tickets or accidents. It is not the fear of the fender-bender, but the other driver who will walk to my window and smile, knowingly. I will the red in my cheeks to fade to white when I drink alcohol, as if pure might alone will change the makeup of my DNA. I’m coming to terms with the fact that the most effective racist I’ve met in my life is me.

My blood ices now, thinking of those words that mother on Forest Avenue heard. Words I’ve heard so many times: “Go back to where you came from.” As if the real-world results of a biracial or an immigrant family haven’t caught up with our concept of it. My father and I spoke on the phone this morning. He hasn’t been to China since he left at 2 years old. I hear his tired voice as it tries to calm me down after another morning of crying in my car. “I don’t understand where they want us to go,” he contemplates. “We are home.” I can’t tell if he’s talking to me or himself now. “Just be strong, keep going, you can do both. Fix your keys.”

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