“Look at these people. They don’t even make noise.”
Those words fell deeply in my soul when I first heard them from a middle aged man, while I was in a deaf and hard of hearing gathering. The worst part was that he was talking to what seem to be his children. No one should be fed those comments as a child. And no one should refer to another person like that.
As a child, I didn’t fully comprehend what being deaf meant. It was not a problem or disability, only a fun way to say childish words, play and laugh. I was first exposed to the deaf community 12 years ago. It happened when I went to California on vacation to visit my mother’s side of the family. One of my aunts has twin sons; one of them is deaf, the other one is hard of hearing. During that short period of time, I learned to sign words that I still remember. Furthermore, they have become a code among my cousins, sisters and me.
10 years later, I went back to California. This time I went to live in my aunt’s house. I had a better understanding of deafness but hadn’t immersed myself in the culture yet. That was about to change.
As soon as my mom, sisters and I arrived to their home, we couldn’t help but remember and joke about the funny words we had shared years before. We soon committed to a daily schedule of American Sign Language classes on the dinner table, with the fridge as our bulletin board and both cousins Ivan and Eddie as our teachers.
As in any class, we had quizzes, homework and even field trips. The field trips were the best part because they weren’t really assignments, but the construction of siblinghood. Amazingly, their friends became our friends too. Every second Friday we used to go to a deaf community gathering held at a coffee shop in an open mall in Anaheim, a city not far from home.
Amazing, it seem to me, seeing that as soon as someone saw us sign, they approached us and became “instant friends” as Ivan and Eddie refer to the people in their community.
Everyone is welcome; deaf, hard of hearing and hearing people alike.
Even people from the coffee shop had learned a few signs to communicate with the regular gathering customers.
Unfortunately, not everyone outside the community has that understanding nor the respect. Every time I went outside, I saw people signing and I would think it is a language well known and diffused. I also happened to run into one person that kept looking at people signing as if something was wrong. In other cases, sign language is not promoted and people do not get the help they need to learn to communicate.
With so many languages in the world and especially living in USA, which is one of the places with plenty of background varieties, an open mind is needed. Everyone has different histories and we should embrace the opportunity to be around different people and learn from other cultures that we don’t know about.
Judging people and expressing disrespectful names to others, especially children—young learners—just because something is different ultimately leads to separation and the incapability to completely love one another. Those hurtful actions of human life could be totally and completely avoided if tolerance and respect were to be practiced, always.
So I say, let’s open ourselves to new worlds and embrace the possibilities that they give us.
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Ed: Catherine Monkman