Side note: the last part is meant in the same way that I tongue-in-cheek tell people to get off my lawn. Teachers do a lot, much of which is stuff that should, ideally, be taught at home. To all of you awesome, hardworking, loving teachers? Thank you, and please continue to rock on!
Moving along: the other day, I found myself at an impromptu family gathering. As I have been doing everyday since November 12, I raved about the Pixar short film “Float.” I don’t want to write too much here, mostly because I’m the type of person who hears about something, gets hella excited, and then things don’t usually live up to my very heightened and unrealistic expectations. Let me just say that I enjoyed “Float,” some cat dander got in my eye while I was watching, and I hope everybody signs up for Disney+ so they can watch it, too.
Did I mention that it’s the first Disney/Pixar venture to feature Filipinos? YAY! Filipinos! Pinoy pride! Those are MY people –
“So?” a small voice interrupted my praise. “What’s the big deal about Filipinos being in it?”
I turned towards the sound and found myself looking into the large brown eyes set in the small round face of a younger family member. I’m talking actually younger, as in a kid. His question was completely lacking any malice. He really didn’t see that it’s a big thing to see non-white people in big roles.
“Well,” I replied, “how many other Disney movies have you seen with Filipinos?”
He thought for a few moments and then said, “None?”
“Right. So this is a big deal: we get to see people like us onscreen.”
“But why is that important? They make movies with Filipinos in the Philippines.”
If I was a cartoon character, that would have been the moment when a plethora of arrows would have simultaneously struck the vicinity of my heart. My relative was so young, and he was already indoctrinated into accepting the status quo.
Keeping my emotions in check, I tried to turn this into a moment to perhaps turn the tides.
“Are all of the kids at your school white?” I asked.
He gave me a look that said he clearly had no idea what this had to do with anything. “No.”
“So, what? There’s one black kid? Maybe an Asian? A Latino? One of each? Any combination of the three?”
“No,” he said, his brows knitting into a scowl that implied I was a weirdo for imagining such a thing. “There are a lot of black kids and Filipinos and Latinos and – “
“So your entire school is not comprised of white people. Well, what about when you go to the grocery store, or to the mall? Are there only white people there?”
“No! There’s a lot of people. White people, and brown people. It’s not just white people.”
“So…why don’t we see this very often in movies and TV?”
“But those aren’t real,” he said.
“No,” I agreed, “but what we see shapes what we believe. You don’t see anything wrong with the fact that it’s mostly white people playing main characters, and that’s fine. For you. Because you’re still young. The problem is that a lot of people don’t think about it, and pretty soon? You have people who think that this is just the way it is. That the world *is* white people, and the rest of us are others. That anybody who isn’t white can’t be the star, or a hero, or – “
I could tell by his facial expression that I was starting to lose him so I quickly scaled it back to something he could understand.
“Okay, think of it like this: there are lots of people who want to make movies and be in movies and stuff. They’re not getting a turn because of the color of their skin. Is that okay?”
“No,” he replied immediately. His face lit up in understanding. “Ohhh…That’s not fair.”
“No,” I agreed, “it’s not. And that’s why it’s such a big deal to see Filipinos featured for the first time like this.”
It was nice to have this conversation with him, and I hope that he’ll take these thoughts and ideas with him as he grows older. I’m embarrassed to think about how I was an adult before I looked around and started questioning, “Why don’t I see people like me regularly featured in things?” followed by the terrible realization, “And why is that person playing an ethnicity that she clearly isn’t? That’s not cool.” I wish other people – particularly my fellow adults – were as open to thinking and reevaluating these things as my young family member is.