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Tommy Druen: Life lessons from Little League
Previous Column: My wife is a genius
By Tommy Druen
Every once in a while I'll have a touch of insomnia. When that happens, and I'm the only one awake in the house, I usually will watch an old movie that I've seen countless times. Duck Soup, The Dirty Dozen and Cool Hand Luke are always in the rotation. The other night I had Hondo playing, easily one of the best westerns ever made.
I was about ten minutes in when my 12 year-old son Asher made his way downstairs. Admittedly, I was frustrated that he was up way past his bedtime, but it is summer and rules do get a bit lax. Of course he asked what I was watching and then he saw the character Hondo Lane and said, "Hey, isn't that John Wayne?" The kid had never had any interest in westerns until a couple weeks prior when we visited the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.
Despite it being after midnight, when he asked if he could watch it with me, I agreed.
As any parent of a 12 year-old knows, evidently movies cannot be enjoyed on face value. No, if it's a good movie, it has to be accompanied by at least a thousand questions. For the most part, I was holding my own, but when he asked if Victorio, the Apache chief warring with the U.S. Cavalry, was a real person, I had to look it up. As often happens, that sent me down the Wikipedia rabbit hole.
What I found was that yes, Victorio was a historical person. Faced with relocation, he led a band of 200 Apaches against both the U.S. and Mexican armies for two years in what was creatively known as Victorio's War. Seeing that he was a character in quite a few movies, I noticed that one actor played him often, the same one who was starring in Hondo, a man named Michael Pate. The name didn't exactly scream out Native American heritage to me, and when I looked him up I learned that Pate was Australian and played characters of different ethnic backgrounds throughout his career.
While at the museum in Oklahoma, I had paid particular interest to a section of the popular culture exhibit that talked about Native Americans in western films. With few exceptions, Native Americans rarely played positive characters. And moreso, most prominent Native American characters were played by people not of that ethnic background. The point was made that representation matters.
That point has been increasingly made about Hollywood as of late. And, frankly, it was one I dismissed at first. My thought was these are actors and if I can see them as who they portray, what does it matter? Who cares if Yul Brynner wasn't from Siam, Elizabeth Taylor wasn't from Egypt or Omar Sharif wasn't from Russia? As I would tell my kids, it's all just "pretend" anyway, right?
A Little League baseball game would change my mind on that. My son has played baseball since he was four years old. He loves it and sometimes, eats, breathes and sleeps baseball. Like many little sisters, my 7 year old daughter, Julia, has spent plenty of time at the field playing with the other little sisters and watching her brother play. For a few years, one of his teammates was a girl named Riley. Riley was, and still is, a heck of a baseball player. But, more importantly, our families have become friends.
One night, after a game, someone asked Julia what she wanted to do when she grew up. Immediately, she said, "I want to be a baseball player... like Riley." Asher mocked emotional pain and wanted to know why not like him. Julia said, because Riley is a girl and she is as good as the boys.
That's when it dawned on me that representation really does matter. Julia was looking at these players and found the one that she could be like, as well as idolize. That resonated with her for good reason.
While we of course want a world that doesn't draw false distinctions based upon race, gender, nationality, etc., we should be cognizant of the fact that we live in one that currently does. Everyone, especially children, deserve positive role models that remind them of themselves.
Representation really does matter.
Tommy Druen is a native of Metcalfe County, with roots in Adair County going back to the 18th century. He presently lives in Georgetown, Kentucky and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story was posted on 2022-07-31 10:25:18
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