Many Deaf people consider the Deaf community their home. But for some Deaf Latinos, becoming part of the Deaf community can mean losing the Latino part of themselves. That leaves many of them searching for ways to claim both identities. From Ann Arbor, Michigan, Renee Gross reports.

EDITOR’S NOTE: According to the National Association of the Deaf, American Sign Language is used predominantly in the United States and many parts of Canada. The National Institutes of Health notes that there are many different versions of sign language, for example British Sign Language, French Sign Language and Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language. No one form of sign language is universal. Different sign languages are used in different places, and users of one version of sign language may not understand other versions. Latino USA regrets not making an editorial clarification in this story.

4 thoughts on “Being Deaf and Latino

  1. I saw a lot of the comments on here and thought it might be helpful to make my own transcript for y’all.
    Maria Hinojosa: Welcome back to Latino USA. I’m Maria Hinojosa, and today we’re talking about words. Palabras. Well, did you know that in American Sign Language, the sign for “deaf” is almost the same as the sign for “home”? In fact, many people consider the deaf community their real home, but for some deaf Latinos, becoming part of the deaf community can sometimes mean losing the Latino part of themselves, leaving them to search for ways to claim both. Renee Gross reports now from Ann Arbor, Michigan.
    Angela Laguardia: “Can you try rolling your r’s? Rrrr.” [Xavier tries to copy his mother.] “It’s hard when you don’t have four front teeth!”
    Renee Gross: Angela Laguardia is practicing Spanish with her six-year-old son Xavier.
    Angela Laguardia: “How do we say rooster?”
    Xavier: “El ga-lo”
    Angela Laguardia: “Remember, the double L is a y sound!”
    Renee Gross: She says the word in Spanish and then signs it in ASL so that Xavier can learn it in both languages.
    [Xavier continues trying to pronounce el gallo]
    Renee Gross: Angela learned to speak as a kid at a school for the deaf and at a mainstream school. She wears hearing aids. She’s fluent in ASL and English, but she knows Spanish pretty well, and it’s important to her that her son knows it, too.
    Angela Laguardia: “That’s my hope – that’s my one wish for the future: that he’ll be much more fluent and he could… enjoy the extended family that we have… that I wasn’t able to enjoy, but that he can, when he wants to.”
    Renee Gross: Angela’s parents are immigrants from Cuba. Growing up, they spoke Spanish inside the home and English elsewhere. When Angela had trouble learning to talk, they thought maybe it was because they were trying to teach their kids two languages.
    Angela Laguardia: “They thought maybe we were becoming language confused – that we weren’t crystal clear on: this is Spanish and this is English, and this is how you say it in English and this is how you say it in Spanish.”
    Renee Gross: When Angela’s parents found out she was deaf, they stopped speaking Spanish with her. They hoped that would make things clearer, but what happened instead was that Angela felt isolated in both places: the hearing world and her family’s Spanish world. She remembers going to parties with her relatives and not talking with anyone.
    Angela Laguardia: “…and most of the time, you know, to… avoid getting bored, I would, like, go in, do the dishes – I would, like, go do the physical part of the party like setting up plates and… and just pretty much keeping to myself.”
    Renee Gross: It wasn’t until college that Angela found her footing. She went to Gallaudet University, an all deaf school where everybody signed. Angela says she fell in love with the deaf culture and never looked back. She isn’t alone.
    Dr. Carla Garcia Fernandez: “Deaf Latinos, because of the ability to communicate within the deaf community, are often drawn to that community rather than the hearing Latino community.”
    Renee Gross: That’s an interpreter speaking for Dr. Carla Garcia-Fernandez. She’s a Texas educator who’s deaf and Latina. Carla conducted a small study and found that her students identified more strongly with the deaf culture than with being Latino.
    Dr. Carla Garcia-Fernandez: “The deaf identity is important for students and the ability to feel that they do belong, yet it is still important to recognize the multiple identities that people within the deaf community hold.”
    Renee Gross: Carla says that the deaf form strong bonds with each other based on their isolation from the hearing world, but that means it can be hard to talk about differences within the deaf community.
    Dr. Carla Garcia-Fernandez: “Often, white deaf people are in denial, and they say that all deaf people are the same, but that’s not so.”
    Renee Gross: Carla says there’s a natural overlap between Latino and deaf cultures.
    Dr. Carla Garcia-Fernandez: “The deaf community often has a strong emphasis on storytelling, and the Latino community has their cuentos, as well – folktales that are passed down through the generations – and I think that’s a beautiful opportunity for those things to merge.”
    Renee Gross: Still, having a dual identity doesn’t resonate with everyone.
    Tony Galofre(?): “I would say the deaf community is more important.”
    Renee Gross: That’s Tony Galofre(?) speaking to his interpreter. Tony is in his early forties. His dad is Columbian, and his mother is from the Netherlands. He had never felt at home within his family and eventually he was [???] by his interpreter. For now, he isn’t concerned with feeling Latino. Instead, he longs to find more deaf friends.
    Tony Galofre(?): “I grew up as a deaf person. I did not grow up as a Latino.”
    Renee Gross: That’s a perspective that Angela understands. Still, her deaf personality has a Cuban tinge.
    Angela Laguardia: “What is the same? The facial expressions, the emotion, the lively chatter! Even though we’re not making a lot of noise, we’re not quiet.”
    Renee Gross: Angela’s son, Xavier, isn’t quiet either. In sign language, English, and Spanish, he makes himself heard.
    Xavier: “Eagle!”
    Angela Laguardia: “How do we say eagle in Spanish?”
    Xavier: “El-ego!”
    Angela Laguardia: “Aguila.”
    Xavier: “Aguila!”
    Renee Gross: For Latino USA, I’m Renee Gross in Ann Arbor Michigan.
    Maria Hinojosa: Thanks to Audrey [???] and Joe Rice for providing interpretation for [Dr.] Carla Garcia-Fernandez and Tony Galofre(?).

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