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Eva Motolinia: undefined by disability

Motolinia's dwarfism is absolutely not a pitiful burden

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Eva Motolinia '18 poses near the 3rd floor mural.

Eva Motolinia '18 poses near the 3rd floor mural.

Eva Berezovsky

Eva Berezovsky

Eva Motolinia '18 poses near the 3rd floor mural.

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Were you nervous prior to delivering your speech?

Oh, yes. I have stage fright, but what was scary about giving a speech about my disability was that I’ve never really talked about it openly with other people other than my really close friends. I don’t even have to talk about it with my family because it’s so inherent to our lives, so it’s like talking about something that I’m not used to talking about in front of a huge group of people. It just made me feel really vulnerable…I was mainly just nervous about it not being received well and others not understanding.

What sparked the decision to produce your senior speech as a hypothetical letter to your future daughter?

A letter format allowed me to speak about my life and what I’ve gone through through a lense of advice…A lot of people, even though they probably weren’t disabled, could still understand what I was saying and so speaking in a second person tone created more of a connection between me and the audience.

In your speech, you said you aspire to have a daughter and a son. How and why does your speech specifically apply to a future daughter?    

For me, I feel like being disabled as a woman is completely different from being disabled as a man. Men have to live up to expectations of masculinity and being strong, and that’s really, really hard to deal with when you’re disabled. As a woman, I have to live up to being beautiful and attainable and pretty to the world, and I can’t relate at all to being disabled as a man. Talking to my future daughter was easier and a way for me to process my own feelings since I had never spoken about this at all out loud. I hadn’t even written any of my thoughts down on paper until I wrote my senior speech.

In your speech, you also said, “I believed that it it was impossible to be happy, confident, successful and disabled.” What was the personal turning point where you discerned these things aren’t actually defined by your disability?

When I was younger, [I remember] sitting in the car and thinking, what if there was a surgery I could have that could make me not disabled? I was like, “someday science is gonna be so advanced that I’m gonna be able to be an averaged-height person.” But, at some point, I realized there was no way that my life is ever gonna change from an identity point of view. My disability is never going away. I just have to learn to live with it. I realized that if I keep wishing and thinking what if I wasn’t disabled or about what my life would be like if I was an averaged-height person, I was bound to be so unhappy with my life. Sometime around ninth or tenth grade, I was just like screw it.

Since your mom is disabled as well, what influence has she had on your perception of your own disability?

My mom is the most supportive person in my life, and I know everybody says that about their mom, but she really has made me look at life like I can’t take any prisoners. She made me realize that I need to just go for it and really not pity myself. She says I can’t let me disability hold me back and tells me to really put in the back of my mind every time I do something new or different, or something that I’m passionate about.

How is your own experience of being disabled altered by other facets of your identity?

I’m still learning how [each part of my identity] contribute[s] because a lot of my life has to do with how people view, me not how I view myself. If you look at discrimination, my disability definitely weighs in there, but I never even thought about that until I had to apply for a job. I still really don’t know how my identity all mixes together, but my speech really was to try to figure that out.

How is your experience with a Mexican heritage altered by your disability?

I pretty much inherited my disability from my mom’s side of the family and then my dad’s side of the family is Mexican, and there’s really not a lot of talk about my disability on my dad’s side of the family, which is fine. I think they don’t feel the need to acknowledge it, but for that, those two identities don’t always mesh.

How would your persona today differ if you weren’t disabled?

If I didn’t have a disability, I wouldn’t be as compassionate for others as I am. I know that sounds a little egotistic–to be like, wow, I’m so thoughtful of others–but I think that I’m compassionate as a result of my own struggles that some people can and can’t see. I have arthritis in my shoulders and my hips and that makes mobility really hard but not a lot of people can see that, and so I understand that a lot of other people will have struggles that you just cannot know about and that you may never know about. My disability has given me this perspective that allows me to put myself in other people’s shoes.   

How would your sense of self differ if you weren’t disabled?

I really think that my disability has factored hugely into my body image. I, in the past, have struggled with my weight, and have thought I needed to be skinnier because I thought I needed to, like, make up for me being disabled. I always thought I need to be as pretty as I possibly can and do everything in my control to make myself prettier because I am disabled. Then, after a while, I realized that that makes zero sense and that I’m gonna be who I’m gonna be regardless, but I think that if I wasn’t disabled, I think I would put a lot more time into trying to mold myself into something that I’m not. I feel like I do have a sense of freedom in my identity.

Do you believe that you can truly prevent your future daughter/child from feeling like their disability is a burden?

I don’t think that I can prevent that at all. I think that everybody with a disability feels like they’re a burden on the people around them, and it’s really really hard to convince myself that I’m not a burden on the people around me. My mom has pushed so hard for me to advocate for myself in school or for sports that I’ve done, but it’s so incredibly hard to ask people to make exceptions for you even if you absolutely need them. I can’t prevent my future daughter from feeling like she’s a burden on other people, but I feel like I can push her to believe she isn’t a burden and to be who she wants to be.

 

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Eva Motolinia: undefined by disability