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year ago today I made the first post to this site.  My teacher had assigned us all to research or create something fun to help others learn either ASL or Deaf Culture.  When most kids in class were making ABC books, I started this blog.

WordPress has an amazing feature where you can see how many people are looking at your page per day, and what entries they looked at.  For the first few months, I would get really excited when one or two people looked at the site per day.  I just checked the totals for the month of March: over 2000 people have been to the site this month alone, and daily it’s been in the range of 50-75.

I just want to thank everyone who’s ever been to the site, especially those who have commented and given me feedback.  It’s because of you that I compulsively check the daily totals and feel gleeful.  You’ve made this year great.

Lets all raise our imaginary glasses to another year of ASL and Deaf Culture.

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ee What I’m Saying” is a documentary that was made about a year in the life of four different Deaf performers: C. J. Jones the comedian, Bob Hiltermann of the band Beethoven’s Nightmare, T. L. Forsberg the singer, and Robert DeMayo the actor.  It covers all their disappointments and successes throughout the year in trying to become better known for the things they love to do.  C. J. Jones, a huge celebrity in the Deaf world,  tries again and again to break through into the mainstream hearing culture but is constantly rebuffed.  Bob Hiltermann has been teaching for two years, and feels the need to get the band together for one more show so he can be a rockstar at least once more before he dies.  T. L Forsberg tries to find her place in the Deaf world even though many people look down on her because she can pass as hearing, has a singing career, and imperfect signing skills:  they feel she isn’t Deaf enough.  Even though Robert DeMayo is considered a premier actor and even teaches at Juliard, he finds it hard to get work;  everything culminates for him when he is evicted from his apartment and is forced to live on the streets.  The documentary premiered in Los Angeles on March 19th and is being shown exclusively at the Laemmle Sunset 5 in Hollywood until April 1st.  After that, it goes to New York and then into wider circulation.

I had been DYING to go see the movie.  Everyone in my classes was talking about it and saying how amazing it was.  I finally told my husband, Brian, that we were going whether he liked it or not, so we did.  I can’t believe how much everyone was low-balling how great the documentary was.   You wanted to cry with the performers through their difficulties and cheer with them through their successes.  Even Brian, who knows no sign and nothing about Deaf Culture, found the movie incredibly inspiring.  We both agreed that when Beethoven’s Nightmare puts on it’s next show, we will be there with bells on and nothing can keep us away;  the concert they showed was just about the coolest thing I think I’ve ever seen.

Little by little, Brian is learning more about Deaf Culture.  I took him to the ASL Comedy Tour about a month ago and he loved it a lot.  At one point during the movie, Keith Wann interprets for Robert DeMayo.  It was really fun for Brian and I to turn to each other and say excitedly, “That’s Keith Wann!!”.  While in theory I know how small the Deaf world is, it was highlighted a lot in this movie.  The performers all know each other and work together constantly.  The same people turn up over and over.

While the movie was AMAZING, the best part was the ending.  Brian turned to me before the lights came up and said, “Don’t look now, but the girl from the documentary is standing in the aisle right behind us!”  T. L., Bob, and the director Hilari Scarl all showed up to answer questions at the end.  It was really great to meet everyone!!  We bought a Beethoven’s Nightmare CD, T. L.’s newest CD, and a See What I’m Saying poster which everyone was more than happy to sign for me.  It was crazy, because you get all star-struck seeing what amazing artists these people are on the screen and then their right in front of you.  I’m sorry to say that my ASL suffered a little bit of a breakdown due to nerves, but not too badly.  It was a really great day, and I’m so happy that the open captioning on the film and the amazing volunteer interpreter made me able to share it all with Brian.

I would strongly recommend that anyone who is able to should go see this film.  It was a wonderful experience.  The director was telling us all that the future success of the film relies on how many people go to see it in LA right now: I guess movie theaters in other big cities like to gauge how much interest there is before deciding to screen a film.   So if you go to see it, not only will you be treating yourself to a really good time, you’ll be helping people in other cities have a really good time too.  This was, without a doubt, the best time I’ve ever had seeing a movie!

For more information on how to see the film, visit http://www.seewhatimsayingmovie.com/

ndrew Foster was born in 1925 in Ensley, Alabama where racism was at it’s strongest.  His father was a coal miner and the family had very little economic opportunity.  When he was 11 years old, Andrew and his brother both contracted Spinal Meningitis and became Deaf.  The family did what they could to send the boys to the Alabama School for Colored Deaf in Talladega, but their education wasn’t very good.  When Andrew was 16, the family moved into his Aunt’s house so the boys could get a better education.  Andrew finished high school at the Michigan School for the Deaf.

The family was deeply religious and attended church services every Sunday.  It was in Sunday School that Andrew realized his true calling.  A missionary from Jamaica came to the school one weekend and gave a talk about his work in Africa.  Andrew was extremely interested in the man’s experiences and felt that it was his calling in life to become a missionary in Africa too.  If he was to succeed, Andrew also knew he would need a lot of education.  He wrote to Gallaudet College and they accepted him on a full scholarship.  He was the first black student to ever have been accepted at Gallaudet; four years later he became the first black, deaf graduate of Gallaudet in 1954.  He then went on to accieve two Master’s degrees.

Then came the hard part.  Andrew visited every mission he could think of, but in spite of his thorough education they would not accept him as a missionary because of his race.  Instead, Andrew finally started his own mission.  He flew to Liberia for the first time in 1957.  What he saw there was extremely upsetting.  The other missionaries he was in contact with told him that deaf people didn’t exist in Africa at all, but eventually Andrew found them.  Many people thought that deafness was a sign that a person was cursed, so parents were forced to hide their children.  Deaf children who weren’t hidden were frequently left in the wilderness to be eaten by animals.   There was absolutely no education available, and most Africans believed that the deaf were unable to be educated.  The best a deaf person in Africa could hope for was to become a family’s servant, using rudimentary signs for basic communication.  Andrew knew he had to do everything he could to change the fate of African deafs.

Andrew heard about a community in Ghana with a high rate of hereditary deafness, much like Martha’s Vineyard in the United States.  Figuring that he could make an impact quickly in this community, he traveled to Ghana and used the regular school facilities to teach deaf students after hours.  Within no time at all, he had 300 families from all over Africa requesting that he teach their children as well.  The borrowed facilities were no longer enough.  Andrew flew back to the United States to raise money for a permanent boarding school to be built.  A year later, the first school for the deaf in Africa opened in Nigeria.

Andrew faithfully promoted his new schools everywhere he could.  It was at the Third World Congress for the Deaf that he met the love of his life, a German deaf woman named Berta.  She felt just as strongly about Andrew’s mission as he did.  They were married in Nigeria in 1961, and worked together to establish more schools across Africa.  In addition to the schools, they also established deaf Churches, Sunday Schools, Youth Camps, and Teacher Training facilities.  The two also had five children, 4 boys and 1 girl.

Sadly, in 1975 Berta was diagnosed with terminal Cancer.  Although their worst fears weren’t realized (she is still alive and well today), Berta felt that she could not keep up with their nomadic life in Africa any longer.  She and the children moved back to the United States.  Andrew still felt that he had not finished his work in Africa.  He decided to split his time, spending half of the year in America with his family and the other half of the year in Africa establishing more schools and churches.  In 1970, Gallaudet University honored Andrew with an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters.

In 1987, Andrew was on a small plane traveling between schools when the plane crashed in the hills of Rwanda.  There were 11 people on board the flight and none of them survived; Andrew was 62 years old.   As one of his students, Gabriel Adepoju, said, “Andrew Foster is to Africa what Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet is to the United States of America.”  Andrew established 31 schools in over 17 African countries.  The mission he started is still going strong, and his legacy lives on in the tens of thousands of deaf Africans who are now literate and living good lives thanks to his lifelong effort on their behalf.

OK, this is a little long and wordy. What can I say?  I’m back in school and I’m feeling more schollarly-like.  🙂

~~~

he Deaf President Now protests of 1988 were a huge turning point in Deaf history.  Until this point, Deaf people had not been responsible for their own leadership.  Even Gallaudet University, a place many people believe to be the Mecca of Deaf Culture, was run by a hearing president and a hearing board of directors.  Over a week of intense protest, all that changed.  Deaf people snatched their destiny from the hands of the hearing and installed a Deaf president and a 51% Deaf board of directors at the college, reigning in a new era of Deaf Pride.  While the Deaf President Now rallies were empowering, it raises a question in my eyes.  The Civil Rights era kicked off in this country with the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955.  All through the 1960s, groups raised up and demanded to be treated equally.  Why did it take the Deaf community almost 30 years to insist upon their rights as well?  I believe there were three root causes: the sad state of Deaf Education for many years, the fact that Gallaudet University had the same hearing president from the 1960’s to the 1980’s, and the uncertainty of the Deaf community that hearing people would let a Deaf president be successful.

What really happened during the Deaf President Now protest?  Several campus leaders got wind of the fact that the current President, a hearing man, would be stepping down.  They immediately started lobbying for a Deaf president to be appointed.  Things looked to be going well when the Board of Trustees announced their final three candidates for the position.  Two were Deaf, and only one was hearing.  Unfortunately, the Board decided to pick the only hearing candidate as the next president.  Worse still, the woman, named Elisabeth A. Zinser, didn’t even know sign language.  The Board announced their decision rather cowardly, at a local hotel, and not on campus where they knew there would be extremely unpopular.  Students awaiting the decision at the Gallaudet campus were upset that the decision had not been announced to the group it mattered the most to, and they also wanted answers.  They all decided to march to the hotel and demand to know why a Deaf president wasn’t chosen, and they made it just in time to interrupt a national press conference.  With a whole nation watching, the Board had to play nice.  They offered to meet with the Student Body the next morning.

All night, student leaders met to decide what their demands would be.  They finally settled on four concrete demands: 1) Zinser must resign and a Deaf president selected;  2) Spillman, the director of the Board who continually brushed aside student concerns, must resign; 3) The percentage of Deaf members on the Board of Trustees must be increased to at least 51%; 4) There must be no reprisals against any of the protesters.  Just before the large student meeting, the student leaders presented the Board of Trustees with their demands.  The board rejected all of them.  As soon as the meeting started and Spillman started to speak, one of the student leaders jumped up on the podium.  “They have rejected our demands”  he signed, “there is no reason for us to stay.  Let’s all leave.”  As the director futilely tried to regain everyone’s attention, waves of people moved out the doors.    They traveled off campus to the nation’s capital where the protest was kicked off in full force.

Protests continued constantly for several more days.  Students refused to attend classes, and the whole campus completely ceased to function.  When Zinser arrived in Washington DC to take over the presidency, students flattened the tires of several buses which blocked all access to the campus.  Zinser could not even get onto the campus of the University she was supposed to be leading.  She called a meeting with the student leaders and told them she would put a 51% deaf majority on the Board of Directors and would guarantee no reprisals, but that she wouldn’t step down, and wouldn’t let Spillman resign.  Zinser was polite and understanding, and urged them to work with her.  Though the student leaders felt that she was a good person, the knew they would never get what they wanted if they gave up now.  Again they marched to the capital and resumed protesting in full force.  Faced with a non-functioning University that no one could even enter or leave, the Board of Trustees had no choice.  On March 13, 1988, the Board agreed to all student demands and I. King Jordan was elected the first Deaf president of Gallaudet University.

So why did it take Deaf people 30 years longer than hearing people to stand up for their rights?  One of the most important reasons is that, until recently, the catastrophic state of Deaf Education in America kept Deaf people from entering many important careers.  Early in the 20th century, Alexander Graham Bell and others advocated for a completely oral approach to teaching Deaf students.  They refused to let them sign, took them out of the classroom so they could attend thousands of hours of speech therapy, and encouraged them to go to trade school as opposed to university.  This method was completely uneffective and stressed the importance of sounding “normal” at the expense of education.  At the mercy of their hearing parents, Deaf people had little to no say in the kind of education they recieved.  Many Deaf people graduated from these programs barely literate, trapped in blue collar jobs, and unqualified to lead a major institution.  In the 1970’s, when sign language came into it’s own as a true and valid language, Deaf education changed in this country;  Oral only programs fell out of favor, higher education was stressed, and Deaf people began to hold white collar jobs and positions of leadership.  Suddenly, they were qualified to be president.

In 1969, Edward C. Merrill, Jr. was elected the 4th hearing president of Gallaudet University, and he didn’t step down from that position until the 1980’s.  While Deaf people may have wanted a Deaf person to be president of the University before the 1980’s, they didn’t have a chance to stand up for their rights until the president decided to step down.  Another hearing president was elected after Merrill, but when they heard he was going to resign, students acted immediately.  They started a grassroots movement to have a Deaf president installed, and they were passing out DPN buttons almost a year before the last hearing president resigned.  Having a hearing president from the 1960s up to the 1980s didn’t allow Deaf people to assert their position any sooner, but when they saw their opening, they took it almost immediately.

Another small factor in electing a Deaf president was that Deaf people were not sure hearing people would let a Deaf president succeed.  There were two main reasons for this concern: 1)Gallaudet University gets most of it’s funding from the United States Congress.  2) Deaf people tend to hear from hearing people all about what they can’t do, and deal with discrimination called “Audism” all their life.  If the hearing people in Congress were prejudiced against Deaf people, or refused to work with the president, Gallaudet University could be in serious financial trouble.  Everyone was certain that a Deaf person could handle any and all aspects of the job itself, but they didn’t know if the hearing community would pause long enough to put aside their Audism and give a Deaf president a chance.  Though these concerns were ultimately proven to be unfounded (Congressional support actually increased by a bunch under I. King Jordan), at the time they were real concerns for many in the Deaf community.  Not that a Deaf president could do the job, but that a Deaf president would be allowed to do the job.  A superficiall worry, this would certainly not have held the community back from insisting on a Deaf president, but it may have stalled things temporarily.

Though the civil rights in this country happened for most minority groups in the 1960’s I believe that the Deaf community was not behind the times by waiting until the 1980’s to stand up for their rights.  Deaf people, through catastrophic educational conditions, no opportunity to replace the president of Gallaudet, and worries that a Deaf president would not be allowed to succeed, were not ready in the 1960’s to take over their destiny as completely as they did later in the century.  Because of the Deaf President Now protests, Deaf people are leading their own community as never before.  There are Deaf roll-models for children to grow up revering. Oral only schools are almost non-existent now.  Would this have been able to happen in the 1960’s?  Yes, but it would have been a harder and longer fight.

ast year when it was so hard to get classes, my husband cheered me up with Randy Pausch’s “Last Lecture” (for a transcript, go here: http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/TenWays/story?id=3675954&page=1 ).  Evidently, it is a tradition that college professors who know they will be dying give a last lecture on what matters most to them.  Randy’s was amazingly inspirational and has garnered him a bit of fame.  In it, he explains that obstacles are there for a reason: they let you prove how much you want things.

I must really want to be an ASL interpreter.  I went through another horrible week of being turned away at every class.  The worst part is, I didn’t get the class that’s the prerequisite to everything else.  If everything goes well in the future, it will now take me double the time I thought it would to graduate with an ASL degree.

I do have a backup plan.  I need a BA anyway, so I’ll transfer and go to a “real” school while I’m finishing up my AA in sign.  I just feel so defeated right now.  I’m at a school I hate, fighting an uphill battle, for absolutely no gain.  I am so tired of loosing the fight against the California State budget cuts.

I’ll cheer up in a little bit, I promise.  I’m not giving up.  After all, if I work hard enough this year my ASL should be AMAZING by the time I get into those interpreting classes.  It will make my journey easier in the long run, right?  Hopefully? Maybe?…

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