On Tammy Duckworth Fandom: Being What You Can See

About the Author: Hillary Martinez is a health care consultant and also a disability advocate. She uses her platform to share everything about her life from activism to exercise to marriage- she covers it all. Her captions never fail to share a piece of wisdom or advice and her images always seem to convey a message. To see more of her awesome content, check out her instagram here.

Note: I wrote this post a few days before Joe Biden announced Kamala Harris as his chosen VP running mate in the November Presidential election. In line with the themes I talk about below, I feel hopeful about this historic moment and am thrilled to see a Black and Asian-American woman represented on the ticket—a milestone on the journey towards having more women of diverse backgrounds in positions of power. And of course, I’m still cheering Tammy Duckworth on, no matter where her path takes her next!


Any day now, Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden will announce his running mate in this November’s election. He’s pledged to choose a woman and I’m pumped that his reported short list includes multiple women of color. While the historic potential of a female VP alone excites me, I feel a special connection to one leader on the slate – Tammy Duckworth. 

Simply put, Tammy defines badass. A U.S. Senator for Illinois, she is an Iraq War Veteran and Purple Heart recipient. A Blackhawk pilot, she became a double amputee and lost partial use of one arm after her helicopter was attacked in 2004. As Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veteran affairs and in the U.S. House, she led the passage of multiple laws supporting vets and working families. Her long list of firsts includes being the first Thai-American woman elected to Congress, the first Senator to give birth while serving in office, and the first female wheelchair user to be a Senator.

Also, her recent Twitter clapback at Tucker Carlson for questioning her love for America was so on point

I’ve long admired Tammy, but her moment in the VP contender spotlight has led me to reflect more deeply on my fangirldom.

I believe in the meaning behind the phrase, “You can’t be what you can’t see,”—and I see myself in her in ways that I rarely do in other leaders I look up to.

Let me explain: As a mixed-race Filipino-American woman with a disability, I know that I’ll probably never have an IRL mentor who “looks like me.” But when I see Tammy Duckworth’s Instagram posts and TV interviews, I feel the whole of my existence validated. And that goes much deeper than looks...

From my Southeast Asian-American facial features and hair that make people wonder what my background might be, to my body full of imperfections from ankylosing spondylitis, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and scoliosis. From my carbon fiber crutches and titanium wheelchair to my hefty collection of fitness equipment… (Fun fact: Duckworth handcycled marathons with the same para-racing organization I’m part of.)

Like Tammy, I hold two graduate degrees and value leadership and service, having started managing teams in my mid-20s and spent much of my career in education/nonprofit. And watching her as a devoted wife and mom helps me paint a picture of the family that my husband and I hope to have one day…

Though our disabilities are very different, we acquired them in the same decade of our lives, and seeing how her experiences have fueled her advocacy, leadership and career path enables me to envision how my own challenges might create possibility. She gets me hyped to be bold and visible with all of my passions.

I’m a team leader at a top management consulting firm, where I’ve worked for the past few years. Like in government—women, people of color, and people with disabilities are severely underrepresented in my industry, especially within its leadership ranks. Among consultants in my office I’m the most senior woman of color, and I’ve never met another female mobility aid user at my company. This reality drives me to mentor as many junior colleagues as I can who might see part of themselves in me, and to grow our staff disability network that I helped launch this year.

Tammy Duckworth has taught me both the importance of having people like you to pave the way—as well as the power of using your voice as the “only one” or “first” of your kind at a particular table. Her journey as a trailblazer inspires me to keep working to open up doors for others, and to continuously think bigger about my potential impact.

Regardless of who is ultimately selected as the Democratic VP candidate, Tammy makes me feel proud to be a woman of color, #disabledandaboss, and unafraid of my own power. I’m rooting for her and all the other intersectional leaders who seek to harness their perspectives to create a more equitable world.