‘Right Footed’ screens for Filipino street kids, Fil-Am scholars
SAN FRANCISCO – A well attended screening of the documentary film on the life of Jessica Cox, who was born without arms, entitled “Right Footed” was held at the Presentation Theater of the University of San Francisco on August 6.
Philippine International Aid (PIA) together with the Yuchengco Philippine Studies Program of the University of San Francisco, held the screening is part of PIA’s yearlong fundraising campaign for Filipino street children, young Filipino American scholars and in celebration of the institution’s 30th anniversary.
“Right Footed,” directed by Emmy award-winning writer, director, and producer Nick Sparks and co-produced by Mona Lisa Yuchengco, is an inspiring documentary about the life of Jessica Cox who was born without arms due to a birth defect.
With a straightforward narrative meant to uplift its audience, the multi-awarded film chronicles Cox’s journey from childhood to a black belt in Taekwondo, a certified pilot, a Guinness World Record holder, motivational speaker and advocate for the disabled.
Cox uses her feet as most people would use their hands to do most things. She drives a car, pumps her own gas, dresses up, ties her shoelaces, puts on her make-up, writes with a pen, types on a keyboard, uses her cell phone, eats, opens and drinks a can of soda, puts in and removes her contact lenses, among other things, with her feet.
Born in 1983 in Sierra Vista, Arizona, of a European American father and a Filipino mother Cox faced many challenges growing up, from being bullied and learning to do daily routines that most of people might take for granted.
During the Q&A portion after the screening, hosted by retired and multi-awarded KTVU TV journalist Lloyd LaCuesta, Cox cited her Filipino heritage for her resilience and perseverance to achieve her dreams in spite of her disability.
Never gives up
“It did not allow me to give up,” Cox said. “It’s that spirit of not giving up and hard work. And hard work will pay off.”
Cox said that her mother instilled in her the value of hard work.
“If things come easy, you can’t really appreciate it that much,” Cox said. “My mom instilled in me that ‘if you work hard and if you had accomplishments, you’ll appreciate it all the more when you’ve had more difficulty.’ I wouldn’t be who I am without that.”
A staunch advocate and activist for the rights of people with disabilities, Cox recommended that to be an advocate for a change of policy and an ally of people with disabilities is to start by being a voice for the cause.
“Sometimes it feels that we’re powerless, but in reality every voice matters.” Cox said. “If it means going to the halls of the Senate and just doing your best or just even calling your senator and saying ‘I’m aware of this disability treaty, and I want to know if you’re in support it? If you are not, why?’ You don’t even have to go to DC.”
Cox also gave advice on the best thing to do when you meet someone with a disability.
First thing to ask
“The first thing to ask is ‘How may I assist you?’ instead of assuming that that person might need help,” Cox said. “It’s just offering help and empowering them as well.”
After a string of accomplishments that would be incredible even for a person with arms, the next thing for Cox is to be able to make a big difference in her advocacy for disability.
“It is something that is still developing. I’m just trying to find my place in that world and how I can help,” Cox said.
For now she continues her work as a motivational speaker, having visited 20 countries and reaching hundreds and thousands of people with her message about disability. “It starts with everyone. It’s changing the stigmas of disability. People with disability get judged all the time, and it doesn’t have to be something huge to do, we can start by being more accepting,” Cox said.
“Policy is one thing, but it should start in our everyday lives as well.”
Cox was awarded a special certificate of honor by Philippine Consul General to San Francisco, Henry Bensurto, who called the film “a very moving picture and a very moving story.”
“Her story is truly a very inspiring story, and I think it’ll touch the heart of anyone who sees this film,” LaCuesta said.
Pleased with turnout
Yuchengco was pleased with how the event turned out.
“It’s very good. We were sold out. A lot of people loved the movie. Every festival that it’s been shown people loved it. People can’t wait for the DVD to come out,” Yuchengco said. “It was a nice way to show what Philippine International Aid is all about, and all the projects we support in the Philippines and here in California.”
Proceeds from the screening will benefit disadvantaged Filipino children in the Philippines and California.
Established in 1986 around the time of the People Power revolution that ousted the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, PIA was founded by its chairperson Mona Lisa Yuchengco “as a way to help the motherland from here.”
An all-volunteer organization that provides assistance to disadvantaged Filipino youth in the Philippines and the United States, PIA is Yuchengco’s life’s work.
“Little did I know that I would spend half of my life and almost my entire stay in the United States to help destitute children go to school,” Yuchengco said. “We now enroll about 2,500 kids annually in the Philippines and in California.
Reminiscing on the past 30 years of PIA, Yuchengco said, “It wasn’t always easy but we persevered. The face of a little child saying thank you is enough to give us the inspiration to continue.”
PIA’s yearlong 30th anniversary celebration was kicked off with a golf tournament last June followed by a screening of ‘Right Footed.” A concert by Martin Nievera with his son Robin will happen in late October and a pilgrimage to the holy land in Jordan will end the festivities this year.
“These are all fundraisers,” Yuchengco said.
PIA plans to continue to support disadvantaged children with the help of the community.“We will continue to do that for as long as we can,” Yuchengco said. “The foundation will continue to help children with the help of the community because we depend on the community to support all our fundraisers.”
Long ties with USF
The Yuchengco family is no stranger to the University of San Francisco. Maria Elena Yuchengco, Mona Lisa’s sister, studied at USF and graduated as summa cum laude. Maria Elena passed away in 1998, and their father, industrialist and diplomat Alfonso T. Yuchengco, endowed a chair to create a Philippine Studies program in her honor.
“The Yuchengco family has been very supportive of Philippine Studies around the world,” director of the Yuchengco Philippine Studies Program and history professor at USF, James Zarsadiaz, said.
Founded in 2002, the Yuchengco Philippine Studies Program at USF is one of only two Philippine Studies programs in a four-year university in the United States (the other is at the University of Hawaii).
The program offers a broad choice of courses from Philippine history to Tagalog language classes to the Filipino American experience through sociology and literature.
“The Philippine Studies program is very supportive of documentaries, films, and the arts that are related to the people and the experience of the Philippines,” Zarsadiaz said.
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