In October 2018, actress Awkwafina, (best known for her recent role in Crazy Rich Asians) hosted Saturday Night Live. During the opening monologue, she as an Asian woman, reflected on the last time an Asian woman stood where she was.

“Back in 2000, I came to 30 Rock and waited outside when my idol, Lucy Liu, hosted SNL,” she said. “I was a kid, and I didn’t have a ticket, so I knew I wasn’t getting in, but I just wanted to be near the building. And I remember how important that episode was for me, and how it totally changed what I thought was possible for an Asian American woman.”

“Standing here tonight is a dream I never thought would come true.”

In the same way Lucy Liu inspired Awkwafina, Ellen Degeneres gave courage to many by simply saying “Yep, I’m gay,” and characters in Black Panther showed that a black man on screen doesn’t have to be cast as the villain but can indeed be a superhero.

I written about how representation on the big and small screen does wonders to improve self-worth. But I recently had my own experience with this, and it happened right in my own backyard … literally.

Representation and Inspiration

For the past month, a contractor worked in my backyard. The project was to build a countertop to house a charcoal grill that I have had set up on the ground for the past ten years. I intended to build this myself, but you know how that goes, it never got done. This year, I opted to have a professional tackle it.

The project started with an initial visit to check out the area where I wanted it built (a.k.a. The location of where the grill has been sitting on the ground). Then we had a discussion and looked at a sketch of what the build would be and decided on the landscaping that would go around it.

Then the work started.

There was a clearing of debris, digging out holes where new plants were going in, power tools everywhere, measuring, cutting, hammering and building. There was plenty of sweat and thankfully no blood or tears.

The contractor, really a landscape designer and architect, had an amazing vision and worked incredibly hard every time. And with the exception of having lent a hand to hold something in place or move rocks around — and my wife helped dig a few holes — this contractor did the whole thing by herself.


The Right Place at the Right Time

A little honesty here, this contractor is an acquaintance of mine and someone whom I think I can now call a friend since we’ve spent a good amount of time together on this little project. She also happens to be a bit of a media darling in the Home Improvement category with a few shows on the DIY Network.

She is Sara Bendrick and she’s kind of a badass.

Getting Sara to take on this project was a “being in the right place at the right time” kind of thing. She needed to build something for a future business opportunity and crowdsourced on her social media, looking for someone who could use her service. Well, I guess ten years of procrastinating and neglect paid off, because one look at my sad
barbecue area and Sara already was seeing the “before and after” shots taking shape.

“This is gold,” she said.

We have lived in our home for nearly 15 years, and there has been no shortage of home projects. There have been plenty of DIY ones, where it was myself or my wife and I working in tandem. And there have been bigger jobs with hired contractors and day laborers. The plumbers, gardeners, electricians and just about any other contractor has always had that same characteristic … they were all male.

Seeing is Believing

Like Awkwafina watching Lucy Liu, I too was seeing something for the first time, amazed and impressed. It was neat watching Sara, a young woman, working hard, getting dirty and moving heavy things around. And while it amazed me, it was also noticed by my 12-year-old daughter, Marissa.

The days when Sara was still around when my daughter came home from school were moments of excitement for her, “Oh, Sara is here.” As we approached the house one day when I was bringing Marissa home with a friend, she saw Sara’s truck in the driveway and said, “Sara is here. You can meet her!”

Although, I’m not sure if Marissa was more impressed with the work Sara was creating, or the fact that she has 18,000 Instagram followers and a blue check mark next to her name. But she was impressed nonetheless.

“I grew up watching Flip or Flop,” Marissa said regarding a TV show that often had females on construction sites. “So seeing Sara (a girl) working here was cool.”

On the final day of the project as Sara was wrapping up, she was wearing socks with an image of Rosie the Riveter, the icon that represented the women that entered the industrial workforce during World War II. Rosie, in a sense, was one of the original symbols a young girl may have seen and then re-imagined what she could become.

And while Marissa may not grow up to be landscape designer and play one on TV, she has one more example that as a woman, anything is possible.

Photo by cetteup on Unsplash
Justin Kanoya shares a story about a home improvement project that opened his eyes and the eyes of his 12-year old daughter. Representation matters.