During last Christmas season, this video came up on my Facebook feed:
Two things really tugged at my heart strings:
One, the little sister’s joy of giving the present, anticipating her older sister’s response.
The second, of course, was the girl’s overwhelming reaction to the doll:
It’s got a leg like me!
The video took me back to my childhood in South Carolina. I was teased often for looking, being different. Outside of Sundays (because of the my dad’s Korean church), I was the only Asian in my class and one of the few in the entire school.
I still remember how small I felt looking at the disgust on my classmates’s faces as they saw my Korean lunch.
“Is that even food?!?”
I mean, I was teased for my given name because it was so foreign: Sung. My dad decided to christened me as “Joseph” starting in the first grade hoping that I’d sound more American.
American name and American lunch (peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for every lunch because that was the only “white people’s” lunch my mom could make — and afford — at that time) wasn’t enough for me to feel like I belonged.
My 8 year-old head believed that if I prayed hard enough; fervently enough; if I put all my heart into my prayers, God will give me blonde hair and blue eyes. Then I’d be able to fit in seamlessly with my classmates. I wouldn’t be so different. I wouldn’t be so weird.
Some of the kids started calling me Bruce Lee (teasingly). I had no idea who Bruce Lee was. So I went to the library (ah, life before Google) and asked the librarian if she had any books about Bruce Lee.
When she brought a book to me, I was stunned. He’s Korean like me!
I started asking my dad if he knew about Bruce Lee. He did. He told me that he was Chinese, not Korean (close enough, I remember feeling) and that he was an accomplished marital artist and he has many movies out.
Dad eventually got a VHS (so 90’s) set of his Chinese movies and we started with The Big Boss (side note: there’s a topless scene in there. I still remember how incredibly awkward that was. I don’t think I even knew what was going on…). I was mesmerized (not with the topless scene, btw). It really was a life changer. There was someone out there that looked like me and was known by my American classmates and was a total badass. My dad waited a bit to tell me that Bruce Lee was dead. I remember feeling devastated that I would never have a chance to meet this man who changed my life (not that I would’ve if he was alive…)
Looking back, I can’t tell you how empowered I felt by Bruce Lee.
It’s empowering to see someone like you… represented. Whether it’s through a doll, a toy, or on the TV/Movie screens.
For me, at the least, it normalizes what made me feel so different that led to feeling outcasted.
Seeing Bruce Lee help me feel normal.
I can’t speak on behalf of the girl, but clearly she was overwhelmingly joyous to see a doll that looked like her when all the other dolls on the shelves at toy stores made her feel… different.
One of things that the Obamas did was give children/people of color hope; they were empowering. Don’t underestimate how important being represented can be.
Hearing something can be done pales in comparison to actually seeing it done; actually witnessing someone getting it done.
There’s so much more that could be said about this, but I don’t know if I’m the best person to write about this. I keep tripping over the words that I want to write.
But seeing the girl’s reaction to her doll with a prosthetic leg took me back to seeing Bruce Lee for the first time. “He looks like me” was a feeling that really helped me and went a long way.
The 8 year-old me finds affinity with this girl crying, Thank you for making a doll like me!