Looking back on my journey into the Deaf world makes me smile. What a rich and exciting journey it has been. My journey began before I really knew it had. My mom and I went to see the movie Sleepy Hollow in 1999. I was a young freshman in high school with my entire future at my fingertips. I can’t remember the theatre we went to, but I remember waiting in line and looking around and there were sign language users everywhere. It was the middle of the afternoon if I remember correctly, and it wasn’t just one Deaf person in attendance, there were several. My mom bought our tickets and we picked our seats out in the cinema. Not paying too much attention to those around us at the time, we chatted and I remember thinking (and possibly commenting) about how loud the people behind us were as they munched on their popcorn. A couple entered and they too were signing as they made their way to their seats. The lights dimmed the movie began. Wait. What were those words doing there on the screen? The popcorn munching was getting louder, I then looked behind me and saw more sign language being used and then it dawned on me- we were at a movie made accessible to Deaf people. Little did I know this was probably the monthly viewing or only time allotted for people who were Deaf to see the movie; of course I wasn’t aware of my own hearing privilege allowing me to see that movie anywhere or at any time I wanted. However, this moment in time stays with me as I was in a room full of people whose language and culture would touch my soul and be an influential part of my journey.
Some months later, I began taking an American Sign Language class at Palomar College, a place where I would spend much of my time over the next six years of my life. Over the years, I fell in love with the language, the culture and of course a handsome Deaf boy. I was actively involved with the local Deaf community, my ASL/interpreting studies and would have much rather been hanging out signing with my friends than going to a musical concert. Deaf Coffee, Deaf Bowling, Deaf Dinner, Deaf Skating and when it wasn’t a formal event I wanted to just hang out at the ASL lab, where the cute Deaf boy was and of course all of his friends. I asked him to my junior prom. He signed ‘yes’. Although years later, he told me he really didn’t want to go with me but couldn’t say no because I was so nervous! However, we went out on a few dates and ended up dating for a couple years until our time had passed and we decided to go our separate ways. However, his ‘yes’ and his friendship were instrumental in my life.
It was during these years I can honestly say, I found myself. When I was younger, I often didn’t feel accepted by the majority (those who were probably most like me) but yet I felt whole and complete when I was with my Deaf friends; I felt accepted and loved. With my friends I was happy... I was at home. Over the years, I have gained so much from the Deaf community, friendships, a language, a culture an identity, and of course eventually degrees and qualifications that allowed me to work in profession giving me an income- a livelihood. Throughout all of this, I learned the value of reciprocity- with much gain there is much to give back. This is one of the reasons I teach. I want the future generations of interpreters to provide quality services to my friends and their families.
Today, I feel much of the same in my early days of learning ASL, as I have been living in the UK for 2.5 years and learning BSL. I want to soak up every sign, expression, and movement. I want to go to as many Deaf events as I can to and I want to chat the night away clocking into Deaf Standard Time!
17 years ago I wouldn’t have even fathomed starting from scratch to learn a new Signed Language- but I can’t even express how great it has been. With that said, I will say, I do miss certain aspects of the USA; in some locations- specifically California where it all started for me, the opportunities to gather with ASL users (Deaf and Hearing) seemed limitless. Here in Edinburgh, the Deaf social events appear to be fewer and far between. So I hope that I can continue, in the spirit of reciprocity, to bring people together and to always be an example to my students that they should not just take language from the Deaf community but to also give back, be involved and become committed to a life that will be forever fruitful; as it isn’t just about learning the language, it is about learning a language to build relationships with people you wouldn’t have had access to otherwise. It is the relationships that matter most.
So thank you Deaf people both ASL/BSL users alike that have met me on my journey and welcomed me into your world.