“Right Footed”: A Paean to American Derring-Do and Filipino Spunk

 In 2011, she was awarded "First Armless Person in the World Ever to Have Obtained a Pilot's License" by the Guinness Book of World Records.  (Courtesy of Jessica Cox Motivational Services)

In 2011, she was awarded "First Armless Person in the World Ever to Have Obtained a Pilot's License" by the Guinness Book of World Records. (Courtesy of Jessica Cox Motivational Services)

Throughout the preview showing of the award-winning documentary on Jessica Cox, I thought often about where Jessica, born without arms, got her drive and inestimable conviction to do right.

It had to be that American spirit of can-do and self-improvement so characteristic of the culture. I remember that as a child I got subscriptions to Popular Mechanics and Popular Science, and from those pages anyone could make a table or a makeshift telescope with just a few tools and persistence. For me, I always thought somebody else could do it.

The audience that evening gasped as Jessica eases into her seatbelt, revs up her single engine plane, takes the wheel with her feet and lumbers down the runway and soars up into the air. It’s truly the best example of that American resolve to be independent and on one’s own.

Early videotapes and photos show her as an armless child in grade school, and we all know how cruel that period can be. But Jessica takes it with stride and even dances along with her classmates on stage and receives a warm applause from the audience. Sometimes one has to try real hard, show unflinching courage, and people will come to your side. Americans love grit and determination.

With “no limits” as her credo, she becomes a black belter in Judo, drives a car, clothes and eats by herself, dances gracefully, becomes a motivational speaker and travels the world to let especially younger people know that anyone with a will can conquer any obstacle in life.

 Jessica checking on her plane before take-off  (Courtesy of Jessica Cox Motivational Services)

Jessica checking on her plane before take-off (Courtesy of Jessica Cox Motivational Services)

Jessica becomes an ambassador-at-large when she goes to Africa and, more recently, the Philippines to visit people with special needs or are disabled. With an engaging and natural smile, she goes on stage, opens a can of soda and eats her sandwich as naturally as if she has hands. Her message of hope is not saccharine or inordinately God-dependent, but rather more focused on her own resolve not to succumb to self-pity, to just rely on a plain old, unwavering belief in her self. Her most inspiring account is about the day, at the start of high school, she dispenses with her artificial arms and is truthful to her new classmates--a very courageous move.

The documentary is a paean to American values, until we are introduced to her Filipina mother, Inez, an immigrant nurse who came to the United States, found work and married. When she gave birth to Jessica, she and her American husband shared a pained astonishment. But she took the pain and guilt only briefly and then set out to commit herself to be at her daughter’s side, love her and care for her unconditionally. No fanfare, just ironclad perseverance learned from hardships growing up in Tacloban, Leyte, finishing her schooling (a rarity in a poor country) applying for the United States and making a new life for herself. All overseas workers, immigrants and exiles have to reinvent themselves and transform in a culture almost antithetical to where they came from. The mother is a constant presence in Jessica’s life without the filmmakers intending it to be so that by the end of the film, it dawns on one that Jessica’s American derring-do still has earlier roots, from a Filipina woman who braved her way to the new world.

It’s a poignant ending. Her mother is now frail and sick, but her spirit is undaunted. Her closing words are memorable, “When Jessica was born with her condition, I thought that I would take care of her all my life. Now, in my condition, she is taking care of me.”

To see "Right Footed," visit http://rightfootedmovie.com/filmfestivals/


 John L. Silva

John L. Silva

John L. Silva is executive director of the Ortigas Library, a research library in Manila. 


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