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Daniel Cubias Headshot

Fender Bender or Hit-and-Run Slur?

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I've been dealing with car problems as of late. In short, my decade-old deathtrap is finally headed for the scrap heap. What was the final blow? What incident pushed the aging metal and chrome over the edge and into oblivion? I can't be sure, but I think getting sideswiped a few weeks ago finished the car off.

I always did have a bad feeling about that one particular intersection. It may be hyperbole to call it the most dangerous stretch of asphalt in my city, but it always made me nervous.

I drive through it on my commute home from work, and whenever I got past it safely, I gave a prayer of thanks to my Mayan ancestors... ok, that part really is hyperbole.

Nevertheless, it's a precarious crossroads. And the other evening, my concern turned out to be reasonable when some jerk plowed into my car as I was driving through the intersection.

I had the right of way when the guy in the minivan tried to turn left in front of me. He succeeded only in whapping the side of my car.

I was, to put it delicately, pissed off. I motioned for him to pull over, and he nodded and turned as if to go around the block and circle back. Five minutes later, two things became simultaneously clear: He wasn't returning, and this was a hit-and-run.

My only witness was a dyslexic good Samaritan, a woman who claimed to have noted the guy's license plate but had jotted down four digits too many. So I just drove home in my dinged car. When I told my wife that the guy had panicked and driven off, she said, "Maybe you scared him when you got angry."

I hadn't considered that. Here was this frazzled Anglo in a minivan who had broadsided an obviously furious Hispanic. For all he knew, I was going to get out of my car and knife him. Perhaps he thought I was riding dirty (Latino variation), or maybe he figured I was a Hmong gang member because you never can tell the differences among all those dark people, especially at night. The funny thing is that I was probably more Italian at the moment, with the wild hand gestures and agitated facial contortions (yes, I am part Italian).

In any case, I have to wonder if he would have pulled over and exchanged insurance information if I had been blonde.

But why do I have to even consider these things? It's not enough that he jacked up my rates and took off. It's not sufficient that he put the kibosh on my car. Now I have to ponder whether or not I've been stereotyped and slurred. Again, this is the way your mind works when you're an ethnic minority, whether you want it to or not.

People in the majority culture sometimes wonder (aloud, I've noticed) why Hispanics, blacks, Asians, et al can't just let the race thing drop. Let's all see each other as people and not ethnicities. I agree that this is the ultimate goal, but we're not quite there yet, are we? And I accept my part is this quandary with my justified paranoia.

Either way, I can't prove a thing about the other driver's intention or mindset. My only satisfaction is that I know his car was more damaged than mine was. His headlight popped off, after all.

So I imagine him speeding home to the suburbs with one beam flickering, his mind racing to get his story straight for when his wife asks what the hell happened to the minivan. I can only assume that he will wipe the cold sweat from his brow, embrace his wife in sweet relief, and say, "I had to run away, honey. The guy was Hispanic or something."

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