Saturday, October 24, 2015

Mary's Special Fin -- Why Representation is Important

A friend of mine and I once ranked our favorite Pixar films. I put Finding Nemo in the top five. While I really love the dialogue and the characters and the overall story, the cherry on top of why I like this Pixar film lies in something kind of silly.

Nemo and I have something in common. We both have a special fin.


When I popped out of my momma, I was on the small side but I also had a left hand that hadn't developed all the way. It's been with me my entire life and is just part of who I am. I do some things differently because of it -- particularly typing, playing piano, and getting stuck with the trumpet. I also really suck at jungle gyms. One of my earliest memories was falling off one -- because my hand wouldn't go all the way around-- and getting the wind knocked out of me. Luckily, it is something small enough that it takes observant person to notice it without me pointing it out. Kids could be mean about it (although kids zeroed in on my weight more) and as an adult, I even had someone I served in the army with said sincerely that my hand "creeped him out". Gee thanks.


I would have to learn how to do some things differently. Like my brother taught me how to guitar but said I would just have to play it backwards like Hendrix. I play Guitar Hero backwards too.

And then there was swimming -- yeah, it is not just the special fin that makes me feel a kinship to a fictional clown fish. I always liked the water and since I grew up on the ocean, I can't remember when I learned how to swim. Of course, mostly in the beginning I was the champion dog-paddler. One summer, I went to a day camp and took swim lessons where I learned actual strokes. My hand caused me to be weaker on one side, so I kept on swimming the crawl in circles or some other form of not straight. The swim teacher told me I probably won't be able to swim properly because of it. My hand was like a broken rudder.

I told my dad about that and he said, in the most incredulous way possible, "Why don't you just push harder with the left hand?!" And I did. Fast forward a couple of years and I gained my lifeguard license. I never used it but I defied what that swim instructor had told me. Now, I freestyle on the level of Haruka Nanase.

Yep. I'm so good, I freestyle in the shower

When I watched Finding Nemo for the first time, I literally screamed. Special fin! Special hand! And Nemo wanted to prove all of them wrong. I mentioned how I got the wind knocked out of me from falling from the jungle gym. What I didn't mention was after, I tried again and cut open my lip when I fell again. That time I stopped. I would dangle and that would be it. But the swimming. Both Nemo and I kicked ass at that.

 The thing is, I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had Finding Nemo as a kid. I never was super ashamed of my hand. I used to brag that telling right from left was super easy for me. I tell Toph-style jokes making fun of it. And the only thing that bothers me is I can't make a heart with my hands.


But there would be days in which my classmates would do something like hand me four pinecones saying they "found my fingers" and other such things that would ruin my day. Or people who meant well but would ask when I showed up to Softball try-outs if I could even catch the ball. Trust me, if I didn't think I could do it or find a way to do it, I wouldn't have shown up.

I know my special hand is not a major set-back. Outside micro-aggressions and impatient teachers, I am not discriminated against. But it is still my special story. It was still a source of frustration to understand how I could never do complex chords for the piano or when I learned how to play the recorder or the Irish whistle, I would hurt my fingers to make sure they'd cover the holes. It was nice to see Nemo suffer from a similar aliment to me and see his all too familiar frustration that more people don't take him seriously, to not see him as weak, or how he could be independent. And most of all, to overcome the self-doubt. I can freestyle. I can serve in the Army. I can get a sharpshooter badge! I found different ways to do all these things. But I had to believe I could do them.

I know a lot of people argue about how this push for diversity is enforcing this "check-list" mentality. I can see where it is coming from. However, as children, one of the ways we learn how to empathize is through the media we consume. And a way we learn to discover/like ourselves is by relating to storylines in the media we consume. But here's the thing. Representation is not just for those who fit into those minorities. It is for the majority -- to be reminded that these people exist. And these people have stories.

Maybe, if Finding Nemo came out during my childhood, my classmates would have said what my roommate in Basic Training said, "Your hand is small! Like Nemo!"And maybe my classmates, just like my roommate, would become my friends. 

Or they could remain psychopaths. Seriously? Pine cones? Go to hell.

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