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Cervantes: A social milestone in the fashion industry

BY CHRISTOPHER CERVANTES | FEBRUARY 16, 2015 5:00 AM

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The fashion industry accomplished a tremendous social milestone earlier this week. Jaime Brewer, known for her activism and various roles on the tremendously popular television show “American Horror Story,” now has the honor of being the first-ever model with Down syndrome to walk the catwalk during the New York Fashion Week.

The sad thing is that this action wouldn’t even have been contemplated if we were 40 years in the past. Our nation’s treatment of individuals with Down syndrome can be called many things. Humane and admirable are not among them.

Historically speaking, the United States has treated those with Down syndrome as if they had leprosy. In 20th century, 33 of the then 48 states legalized the forced sterilization of the “Mongoloids,” as they were insensitively called. Years later, newborns with Down would often been put in institutions and asylums. From that point on, they would be hidden from the world.

In my life, there are two individuals with Down syndrome who have affected my very person. The first is my paternal aunt, Jennifer “Jenny” Cervantes, and my childhood friend Myra.

Jenny was born in 1985. According to my grandparents, the doctor looked her over shortly after she was born, and then dropped her on a hospital bed. He said she was a typical Mongoloid, one who would never talk, never walk, and never be toilet trained. “You have three other beautiful normal children,” the supposed professional said. “Don’t let this one drag down your family. I can put her in an institution before the day is over. She probably won’t live past three years, anyway.”

My grandparents were strong enough to ignore that idiotic doctor, and my aunt was strong enough to prove him wrong. This was an achievement for her, yet to any other individual, it would be regarded as living.

What I find most troubling about this familial story of mine is the year it takes place. 1985 was a mere 30 years ago. Coincidentally, Jamie Brewer was also born in 1985. I can only presume that her parents were given the same type of “offer.” Brewer has also persevered and has lived a successful life ever since.

In an interview with CNN, Brewer stated, “Young girls and even young women [see me] and say, ‘Hey, if she can do it, so can I.’ It’s a true inspiration being a role model for any young women to [encourage them] in being who they are and showing who they are.”

While I remain deeply troubled by the errors of society’s past, I do feel some sort of pride at how quick we were able to reform. When my friend Myra was born, her mother wasn’t pushed to give her up. She was born a mere nine years after my aunt. It seems that roughly 21 years ago, true reformation in the social treatment of individuals with Down was improving. And we are now, in 2015, with Down syndrome actors and models, sharing the spotlight and being recognized as equals in their industry.

In today’s world of brutality from groups such as ISIS and other events that highlight the very worst in humanity, it is comforting to see that we still retain the ability to be progressive. Brewer, and all of the other Down-syndrome individuals who have achieved fame, have become role models and pioneers in their fields. It is because of instances such as this that I still have faith in our world.


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