Where are you from? Where? Huh? Where are you from?”
This was the first half of the hostile refrain that was spouted off at my mother and me by an irate and aggressive man at 8:42 a.m. on a classically sunny and damp Tuesday morning.
In what I consider a small rebellion against paying for a yearly parking decal at the university where I transform lives, I decided to either walk, bike or get dropped off to work.
Since I was running a little late this particular morning, my mom offered to drop me off. We were at the light at U.S. 1 and Ponce de Leon, right at the main entrance of the university, and progressed to make a right turn when we had a green light — the right of way.
An oncoming white Range Rover made a left turn on Ponce de Leon, and in doing so, almost collided with us. My mother gave a single tap on the horn, and we continued along our way. We noticed the Range Rover hovering in the right lane on Ponce de Leon, right before the intersection at Granada Avenue. The man rolled down his window, and after I did the same, he delivered his hateful message.
“Where are you from? Where? Huh? Where are you from? Where did you learn how to drive? America? Why you gotta honk your horn? Why? I had the right of way. Learn how to drive.”
My mom and I were speechless. I rolled the window back up and told her to continue driving. How did I know that this aggressive driver wasn’t carrying a gun or housing a brick in his car? These days, you just don’t know. The man was relentless, but with a spot of courage, I rolled down the window and opened the video recorder on my smart phone. I wanted to capture the hatred.
He continued, “What’s that going to do? Huh? What’s taking a picture going to do?” Without thinking about it, I lifted both my hands in a classic “don’t shoot” pose and quietly said, “We are not hostile people. We are Americans. Where did you learn how to drive? America?”
I could tell he was disturbed by the camera, and he rolled up his window and sped off. Then, my mom and I went along our way — both of us unable to utter a word.
I felt the lingering effects of this man’s “bullet words.”
My mom saw that I was visibly shaken and encouraged me to release the incident. However, I wanted him to be held accountable and to know that aggressive driving contributed to a larger discourse taking place in the United States.
On one hand, this man’s combative response to a simple honk is one aspect of a deeply rooted problem in Miami.
Miamians uphold a reputation for reckless and aggressive driving. On the other hand, his questioning my origins as well as my mother’s is part of an American rhetoric that is displayed through politicians, the media and consequently, our surrounding communities.
As we pulled up to the university, my mother continued, “Why are you so bothered? Don’t house his hatred. Let it go.”
After thinking about it, I realized it was the first time I had been questioned about my origins since 9/11. Later, it occurred to me that this man’s hostility was most likely a hurt birthed from other hurts, misunderstandings and misconceptions.
That didn’t make his aggression OK, but it made me want to not be like him.
Dear Angry Miami Driver:
I’m sad that your response to a honk is abrasive language and aggressive driving. I wish you peace and a better reality that might help you respond to conflict a little better. Help Miami change its narrative — be a mindful driver, not a Miami driver.
S.L. Naghib is a lecturer and assessment coordinator for the Intensive English Program at the University of Miami.