Editor’s Desk: The weight of representation

Editor’s Desk: Volume 50, Issue 18

The Weight of Representation

Carlo Javier // Editor-in-Chief

Topics surrounding representation have dominated discourse in recent years. We saw a great collective outcry at the utter lack of non-white nominees at the 88th Academy Awards in 2016 and with the more recent ceremonies, we are seeing presenters openly call out the lack of female nominees for categories. At the other end of the spectrum, we have seen people celebrate the triumphs of ground-breaking films like Get Out, Wonder Woman and Black Panther.

These important discussions on diversity – especially the proper, respectful and artful portrayals of the historically marginalized – now exist in a macro scope. And while the increased conversation around representation and diversity certainly brings about a breath of fresh air in media and pop culture, we cannot fall into thinking that the job is done.

Representation matters tremendously not just because we want to see other people on the big (and small) screens. It matters because we also want to see people like us, tackling stories that we gravitate to, while struggling with the same barriers we do. Representation matters because of inspiration and because it provides the role models we sorely lack.

Mar. 5, 2018 marked my 12th year anniversary in Canada, having moved from the Philippines as a 12-year-old in 2006. I don’t remember the exact date, or the exact moment, but at some point in my adolescent years, I made a subconscious attempt to identify myself more as a Canadian. I strictly spoke English outside my home – even to Filipino classmates and friends. I learned to cook dishes from many other cultures, without learning the traditional meals from my own cuisine. The shift in identity was not something I noticed until in my later post-secondary years, where I truly started to get compliments for having an apparently, surprising light Filipino accent. In one of my upper level communications classes, we did a project where we gauged how our abilities, personalities and behaviour will translate in our increasingly multicultural workplaces. The project was almost like a side-assignment that would loom over heads throughout the semester, and it also involved the participation of an external instructor – whom we ultimately reported to at the end of the semester for our assessments.

The project was interesting – very much so. But what really caught my attention was my assessment, the process had defined me as identifying to be more Canadian than Filipino – and it was said to be a good thing.

I had questions, but like most people, I didn’t bother asking them, opting internalize instead. Eventually, I came to accept that I existed in limbo. My cultural identity was in question.

For much of my youth, the heroes and idols I looked up to did not look like me. They were pro basketball players, musicians, celebrities and what have you. No one in the grand field of media and pop culture looked like me. There were no otherworldly success stories for me to aspire to be like, no barometers to try and reach and no “all-time great” to try and emulate.

This is the very value of representation. Many of us fall into limiting our success to what we see right in front us – things on the micro level. We may live vicariously through the lives and achievements of other people, but seeing someone that looks like you held on a pedestal often reserved for others can often be breathtaking.

Conversations about representation may be becoming redundant for some, but for those who are only seeing it now, representation means the weight of the world.

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