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aturday was horrifically hot and awful.  It was over 100 degrees, and you could see the waves of heat coming off the macadam roadways.  Instead of staying inside like any decent person would, I worked Deaf West’s booth at DEAFestival LA.  Aside from the unbearable heat, I had an amazing time!

My shift at the booth was supposed to start at 2:00, but I hit the inevitable LA traffic.  That, coupled with a 3 car accident on the side of the road, served to make me a bit late.  As I pulled off the freeway, I saw with relief the little sign procaiming DEAFestival parking, and a blue arrow pointing the way in.  Murphy’s law tends to work out so that whenever I’m running late, I usually get lost too.  I was excited that didn’t have to worry about that today.  I drove down a dusty road while a volunteer pointed me to park in a vast expanse of dustiness.  There was a bus, shuttling people from parking lot to festival, so I retrieved my purse from the back seat of the car, straightened my new blue “Deaf West” shirt, and trudged through the dust to the bus stop.  I was excited when I knew one of the volunteers helping people park!  She also volunteers at Deaf West sometimes.  We chatted a little before I took my place in the shade to await the bus.

It probably took less that 15 minutes for the bus to arrive, but the opressive heat made it seem like much longer.  My little Disney Heat Index trained self was telling me to drink water NOW or suffer the consequesces.  Too bad I hadn’t brought any with me.  As I waited, I caught snippets of conversation from the others waiting for the bus.  I think that’s the first time I’ve understood parts of ASL conversation without trying too.  Evidence I’m getting better?

The bus dropped us all off underneath a line of tall pine trees, next to another field of dustines.  Blue Easy-ups stretched out in the vast expanse of brown dirt while people bustled here and there.  I joined them, determined to rush around and find the Deaf West booth as quickly as possible.  As soon as I joined the crowd, a woman stopped me.

“Hi!  You work for Deaf West?” she asked, signing with a very student accent.

“No, I’m a volunteer.” I signed back.

“Are you hearing?”  She asked me.

“Yes.”

“Oh thank goodness.”  She said to me in English.  She wanted to know about volunteering at Deaf West.  I told her that I considered it an amazing experience, that they needed people for just about everything, and that she could go on the website and fill out their form if she was interested.  We exchanged names, and I went on my way.

I found the booth pretty quickly, in the middle of the middle aisle.  Ty, the Deaf West representative was chatting with someone in front of me.  “Hi!” I signed to him, ” I’m volunteering today. I’m soooo sorry I’m late!”

“Don’t worry about it.”  He signed back to me, and I took my place behind the counter.  The next two hours were great.  I chatted with people in my bad ASL, handed out forms, asked them if they wanted to win tickets, explained the shows that were coming up, and all together had an amazing time.  They even had bottles of water for us to drink so we didn’t get dehydrated!  The other girl who was volunteering with me was an ASL 2 student, and she did so well!!  I don’t know that I would have done as well as she did when I was in ASL 2.  We made friends fast,  and exchanged numbers at the end of our booth stint.  Several Deaf people asked me my name, several more decided to tease me (which I always enjoy), and I saw a lot of funny t-shirts.  “I laughed my ASL off” was one of the t-shirts I really liked, but my favorite by far was “Don’t Scream, I’m not that Deaf.”  I also saw a LOT of people I knew milling about in the crowd.  It was exciting to know that I was recognizing people and becoming a part of the community, slowly but surely.

When my booth stint was up, I wandered around for a few minutes.  I decided several months ago that my dream interpreting job would be to work for GLAD (Greater Los Angeles Agency for the Deaf), so I was excited to see their signs.  I took a bunch of fliers, figuring I would peruse them later.   I also walked around to see if there was any ASL merchandise I wanted to buy.  Sadly there were only two booths selling things, and they were things I really wasn’t interested in.  The other thing I really missed was the TTY museum.  Maybe they decided not to attend because all their antique machines would be outside in the dust.  Aside from all the booths with Deaf themes, booths from the city of Los Angeles were there too. The Democratic party had a booth, the water district had a booth, and so did one of the candidates for city council.  It was nice to see people who aren’t part of the Deaf community trying to participate.  I commend them for trying, but it didn’t seem like many people were interested in what they were doing.  To be honest, I wasn’t very interested in what they were doing either.

I had an appointment that evening, so after I strolled leisurely through the rows of booths, I took the bus back to my dust-covered car and went on my merry way.  It was a great day!  I think my ASL stood up really well to the challenge of explaining things, I got to meet neat people, and I got to spend time with the Deaf community.  What could be better than that?  Not a whole lot.

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fter going to the Mata Expo for a couple of years, I felt like I knew exactly what to expect from the Deaf Nation Expo.  And it was pretty much as I pictured it:  booths and vendors and people everywhere on a much bigger scale than Mata.  The event took place at the Pomona Fairplex in one of their giant concrete buildings.  As soon as I crossed the bridge from the parking lot, I knew right where the expo was happening.  A giant mob of people were standing and signing outside the building, and a huge line on one side indicated all the people who hadn’t signed up for free tickets beforehand.  There was one difference for me from the other expos I had been to.  I was bringing my husband, Brian, who doesn’t know any ASL and has only spent time with highly oral Deaf people.

I usually feel like having Brian along makes everything a better experience, but so far I’ve avoided taking him to Deaf things.  I always worry that the language barrier will be too much for him, and that he’ll have a terrible time.  Lately, I’ve been trying to convince him to learn ASL with me. So I’ve envited him to the last few Deaf things and he’s come willingly.  I know he feels awkward about it, but he seems to have a good time in a surreal, culture shock kind of way.  Bringing Brian to Deaf Nation turned out to be one of the best things ever.  I’m naturally shy and won’t ask people things, even if I’d like to know.  Brian always wants to know, and isn’t shy about marching up to people he’s never met.  Because I was his “voice” that day, I ended up asking people all sorts of things that I never would have thought of on my own.  I got a lot of really neat information, too.  Did you know that the first TTY machines actually communicated using Morse Code?  I didn’t either.  I guess the first model that Robert Weichtbreit and James Marsdon put together was a machine that would either take in the Morse Code and translate it to English or take the English and translate in into Morse Code, depending on which way the information was flowing.  Cool, huh?  And I never would have known if it hadn’t been for Brian.  Even though he didn’t know ASL, he ended up enriching my ASL experience.  He’s so great like that.  🙂

This is the first time I’ve been out in the Deaf community that I’ve acutally seen people I know in droves.  At past events, I might run into one of my classmates at a large event, but for the vast majority of the time I’m alone with no support.  This time, I saw a ton of people I know.  Other students from my classes, people I know from Deaf West, old teachers, everyone was milling about in that giant building.  For the first time, I felt like I could maybe be considered a part of the community.  It was great.

I think most importantly, though, it left me wanting more.  I haven’t been able to attend all the weekend Deaf Events in Southern California because I’ve been working at Deaf West, but once the show is over I definitely need to start doing those things again.  I miss being out in the community and chatting in ASL with people I just met.  I’m starting actual interpreting classes (not the pre-interpreting stuff I’ve been doing) in 6 months.  I need more practice fast!  That means I’ll be doing everything I can to get into the community and chat more.  See you around.

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asli3 bit the bullet, and I went to Deaf Night at Starbucks at the local mall.  Ironically, I didn’t meet any deaf people.  I did meet plenty of ASL speakers though, and there were so many people there that I’m sure I just didn’t get around to meeting them as I chatted with others.  I had an amazingly great time, and I’m so proud of myself!!

It was a cool, dark evening.  I pulled into the white and concrete parking structure with the adrenaline pumping through my veins.   I had specifically asked both my sister and my husband not to come with me, because I was so afraid that I would spend the whole evening talking with them in English, and use them as a crutch to not use ASL.  I regretted that decision a little now, with my sweaty hands gripped against the steering wheel of my parked car.  I knew it was the right decision, but I could really use the backup right now.  My outfit of crisp jeans and a brown button-down underneath a beige trench was carefully chosen to make me look adult, but not stuck-up.  I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. 

“You can do this”  I told myself.  “All you have to do is walk in there, buy a coffee, and assess the situation.  If it looks too intimidating, you can just go home.”  I stepped out of my car and walked to the Starbucks.

I saw them right away.  There was a huge group of animated people sitting on the outside patio.  They were the quietest group of people I think I’ve ever seen sit together, and I knew instantly that this had to be the group I was looking for.  My suspicions were confirmed when a girl stood up and signed something excitedly to a friend across the patio.  I wished I could survey a little, see if I could recognize some of the signs… if they were too advanced for me, but I knew how rude it is to stare at conversations you’re not a part of.  I took the long way around to the Starbucks entrance and got in line to order my tea.

OK, I’m not that proud of it, but I did hide out in the Starbucks for about ten minutes.  I nonchalantly stationed myself behind the CD display and peeked at the people signing outside. “Just go out and do it”  I told myself.  “What’s the worst that could happen?”  

“They could give me a look of pure and utter disdain and turn their backs on my feeble attempts to make distinguishable signs.”  I answered.  But what were the chances of that, really?  Probably not that good.   I realized right then that they don’t teach you in school how to politely introduce yourself.  Most of the people on the patio looked like they would be nice to me, though.  I decided to just walk right up to the first group I saw and see what happened.  If they thought I was rude, I guess I could just never come back.  It’s all about taking risks, right?  I was almost sure they wouldn’t look at me with disdain. 

It worked.  Everyone was amazingly nice to me, and one gentleman even insisted on giving me his chair.  We realized after a little bit that we both went to the same school, and he had tried to add my (full) ASL1 class almost a year ago.  I chatted with students from RCC and Mt. SAC too.  It was only after a while of signing with everyone that I realized they were all hearing, in various levels of ASL class.  I laughed a little to myself about how ironic it was that I didn’t meet any deaf people at Deaf Night.  Not that I minded, I just found it a little chuckle-worthy.

My ASL stood up fine, and I was even able to teach the others a few terms (like semester).  I learned “diploma”  “freshman, sophomore, junior, senior” and “Norco” from them.  One of the students even asked me if I was in ASL 3 (I’m still in 2)!  I felt that maybe my skills are a little bit better that my perception of them.  I love it that ASL speakers are just so kind to learners.

It was a grand night, sipping tea under the stars and chatting the night away.  I will definitely go again next month, and in the meantime I plan to visit other similar Deaf Events in my community.  There’s a Panera Bread on my way to work that has a Deaf Night once a week, and I know that other Starbucks have gatherings on different nights.  I can’t wait to go and chat again.  I think that some conversational practice is really what my ASL skills could use.  I’ve gained so much confidence from just those few hours, all the grief I gave myself beforehand was well worth it for the knowledge that my skills translate to the real world too.

Near 

 aslthe flier said “First Come First Served”, so I assumed that meant there wouldn’t be presale tickets.  It turned out I was wrong, and they were completely sold out when we got there.  It was at the college my mother works at, a magic show by professional magicians (Deafinitely Magic), followed by some fun skits by the ASL students, with professional voice interpreting.  My mother agreed to go with me, and I was so excited… Not only to be going, but to have a backup person for moral support.  When my husband, Brian, realized there would be voice interpreting, he got excited about going as well.  I was absolutely thrilled.  I’m required to attent two deaf events this semester, and this was supposed to count as my second one. 

The three of us walked through the double glass doors and into the loby of the theater.  Tons of people were sitting on old 1980’s style overstuffed chairs, and a few more were sitting at a folding table like a panel of judges.  It wasn’t as quiet as you would think a gathering of people who speak ASL would be, as hearing students chatted with their hearing neighbors.    It felt like everyone looked up as we walked in, and I instantly felt self consious.  I’m fully aware that at this point in my ASL career, my skills are on the bad side of mediocre.  Most of the people, returning now to their previous conversations, were young and well dressed, some with children in tow and most with a young significant other by their side.  We learned awfully quickly that the people waiting were all people who didn’t have tickets.  The event was sold out.   

“Yeah, there’s a sign above the door that says Sold Out.”  Brian pointed out.

“Oh no!”  I exclaimed.  I didn’t know what I would do if we couldn’t get in.  I would have to go to an intimidating Deaf Event all by myself where I actually had to speak one-on-one with people.   I’m scared to do that.

“Well, are they going to be letting people in if people with tickets don’t show?”  my mother asked.

“Or standing room only, or something.”  I added.

“Why don’t we get in line and find out.”  She said, and we got in line.

OK, I told myself, you know the man at the ticket counter will probably be deaf, so you’re on.  Instantly, my heart started pounding and I could feel the adrenaline coursing through my veins.  NO-TICKETS?  MAYBE-YOU-HAVE-TICKETS-LATER?  I kept saying to myself over and over, visualizing the signs as the line progressed. 

When the three of us got to the front, the man looked at me expectantly.  I started to sign.

“No tickets?”  I asked him. 

“No, I’m sorry,”  he told me, “We’re sold out.”

“Maybe, will you have tickets later?”  I asked him

“Maybe… I don’t know right now.”  he signed.

“OK, should we wait?”  I asked again

“Yes, you can wait over there.”  he told me

I gave him a big smile (partially of relief that I had made it through – I’ll admit it), and signed “Thank you” as I stepped aside.

“OK, what just happened?”  Brian asked me.  I told them both about the conversation and they looked impressed.  I felt good, too.  I know my ASL isn’t wonderful, but another ASL speaker understood what I was saying, and I understood him back.  That’s the first time I’ve experienced that outside of class.  It was an amazing feeling.

The rest of the 20 minutes we spent waiting were pretty great as well.  Some of us students started talking about how far we had driven, and then we started showing each other the new signs we learned that day.  I already knew “TICKETS”, but I learned “SOLD OUT” and “WAIT”.  I didn’t feel so bad about not getting in when I realized that, even though we had driven far, a lot of other people waiting had driven farther. 

I think the most important thing about last Saturday was my epiphany.  I had a conversation with a man I never would have been capable of speaking to previously, and it wasn’t that hard.  He was really nice to me, and I felt like it was something I could do again.  You know, speak to someone I didn’t know in a language I’m not that familiar with.  It wasn’t Starbucks, but it was a small step closer.  I never did get to see that magic show, so it won’t count as a class assignment.  It might be a blessing in disguise, though.  I’ll be at my local Panera Bread soon, chatting with my hands.

 

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asli1 tell people that I’m shy all the time, but they usually just scoff at me.  I’m incredibly friendly if someone wants to chat with me first, and I have no problem at all getting up in front of an audience, but put me in a situation where I have to make the first move and I freeze up completely.  I feel bashful and embarrassed, and anything I can thing of to say to someone sounds trite and unnecessary.  I have recently realized that this gets worse when I’m communicating in a language I don’t know very well.  In my limited conversations with Deaf people I feel like all my training in class and my hard work to learn the vocabulary was for naught.  I get flummoxed and I can’t remember anything.  So far, I’ve been to the cheater kind of Deaf Events in my community.  You know the ones… where you can sit and watch the entertainment and don’t have to communicate one-on-one with anyone.  It makes me wish I had a support group of some kind. 

I’m in a weird place in college.  I go to a Community College where the students are either all 18 year old kids, or adults of 40-ish going back to school.  I’m in the middle, neither here nor there.  While I’m friendly with my classmates, I haven’t made any friends that could back me up at a Deaf Event.  Provide moral support.  None of my good friends know ASL, and my husband gives me that pained look when I ask him to go to Deaf Coffee Night at Starbucks.  Not only does he hate Starbucks, but he’d be completely in the dark about what was going on around him.  I get it, it’s not his idea of a fun time.  And who can blame him, really?

I wish I had the guts to go on my own, but I don’t.  I have no idea what it is I’m afraid of, but I certainly don’t feel up to it right now.  I keep telling myself that I’ll feel more confident when I’m a little better at ASL, but sometimes I think that’s just a nice story I tell myself to make me feel better about loving a community I only passively participate in.  Someday I’ll bite the bullet and just go.  Even if I order a coffee and leave, I’ve gotten one step closer.  And if there’s one thing I’ve learned from this whole process, it’s that baby steps are still steps forward.

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