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Non-profit theater group inspires hearing-impaired children

Michelle Christie and Samantha Dudley

As a deaf Latina I grew up struggling to comprehend the idea that my voice mattered. I developed a voice, yet didn’t know how to use it. I thought too much about how I sounded rather than letting my sentiments be known. I let the stigma of being deaf plague me for years. I questioned: ‘Can a single voice have no limits?’

I was shy among my family and friends. I giggled a lot and considered myself an observer. I was on the sidelines of life; I saw what happened but never really lived my life. I didn’t know I was short of confidence, but I knew something was missing.

In elementary school my speech therapist Michelle Christie asked me if I wanted to join her theater group. I didn’t. I hesitated talking to people, unless they spoke to me first. She continued to invite me and I ritually declined. Low and behold, one day we had a class field trip to see her theater group in action.

I walked into the theater entrance in awe of the vibrant colored sets and lighting on stage. The program read: “No Limits for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children presents the play ‘Timeless Journey.’” There were pictures of each actor and their bios. I saw a couple of my deaf friends in the program.

The next hour seriously changed my life. Here I was staring at my fellow deaf friends, watching them act, speak and perform. They were telling jokes and guiding this story. I waved at them when they were on stage. But they didn’t wave back. They were real actors that didn’t break the fourth wall. The lights and sound effects and the costumes were just the icing of the whole production. It really was a production.

I remember seeing Michelle sitting on the right side of the audience. It was dark but I could tell she had a head set on with a microphone. She had her hand over her mouth and as soon as she moved it, she revealed this massive smile. She giggled and even said some of the lines with the actors. She looked so whole. She was smiling from ear to ear.

I remember when the play ended I was floored at how moved I was. I found myself staring at a place where I knew I wouldn’t be judged for being deaf and using my voice. The room exploded with applause. After the show, a music box melody turned on. The stage lights transitioned from yellow to a soft blue hue. The youngest actor came out on stage. He smiled and began to say, “I can be a doctor.”

Everyone was clapping and hollering with liveliness. Each child came out from back stage and had their moment to say what they wanted to be when they grew up. Some wanted to be lawyers and singers. Finally, the 12 deaf and hard of hearing kids on stage, one by one, exclaimed that they could do it one day. “I can do it,” each one said. And then finally, in unison, they all said, “We can do it!” The audience just couldn’t contain themselves. Immediately, I wanted to radiate like them. They had something I had lacked. They were oozing with confidence.

From that moment on I have been a part of this amazing organization. I rehearsed lines, made friends and even wore costumes. Michelle Christie, founder of No Limits, always urged us to be loud, and if you skipped a line, to keep going. She said that to have confidence we must believe that we can do it. Michelle taught me that to have confidence we must have commitment, saying that ‘I will do it.’ In order for us to have commitment we needed to have perseverance, the ability to try and try again. I remember feeling like I was a part of this support group of children who were just like me, given a chance to use their voice without facing judgment.

After years of acting, I retired and became a volunteer as a crew member. At age 16 I was now backstage of a show, cueing the kids to go out on stage to conclude the show with a bow. I finally understood truly what Michelle felt that day when her students spoke on stage. That teary-eyed face is literally tears of joy from knowing that the child nailed the line that took him or her weeks to practice. That ear-to-ear smile is pure excitement that the child was able to not only say his or her line but project their voice with utter confidence for everyone to hear.  It’s just an amazing moment to have things come in full circle—seeing Michelle smile and feeling myself smile from ear to ear.

No Limits for Deaf Children has evolved from a summer program outlet into a National Theater Program and a non-profit organization that provides speech therapy free of charge to lower income families. Located in Culver City, No Limits is the first theater company in the nation that helps Oral Deaf and Hard of Hearing actors to speak on stage. Michelle has broken boundaries and changed the lives of many deaf and hard of hearing children and their families. She has made speech therapy fun and relevant for kids. Michelle believes in advocating for children. She has always in some way, shape, or form advocated for me.

Earlier I had asked if a single voice can have no limits. The answer is yes. Confidence correlates with having no limits. Having no limits to me means being boundless even at times where you may encounter failure. It’s the ability to try something and say, “Hey, at least I did it.”

When I performed for the No Limits Theater Program I always said, “I can be a writer.” And in some way I did. Michelle has taught me many life lessons—one being to embrace life with confidence. So it is with confidence that I write this and leave you with a question: Does your voice have no limits?

If you would like to know more about No Limits and their non-profit visit their website, nolimitsfordeafchildren.org.

Also, watch Maya and Miguel feature No Limits for Deaf Children!

-Samantha Dudley

Despite Chavez Ravine injustices, Latinos connect with Los Doyers

Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine (Photo by The City Project)

For many Latinos ¡Viva Los Doyers! is a common phrase heard growing up. The Dodgers, or Los Doyers, is a very prominent team in the Latino community. Many Latinos in Los Angeles “bleed blue” and support the Dodgers year round. Latinos’ faithfulness to the team is unquestionable, even from Latinos who still remember what lies beneath Dodger Stadium.

Los Angeles hasn’t always been the home to the Dodgers. In 1957 the Brooklyn Dodgers decided to come to the West Coast. Looking for a new stadium, Dodger owner Walter O’Malley saw an area in downtown as prime real estate. This village, home to many generations of Mexican Americans, was called Chavez Ravine.

Residents of Chavez Ravine, more than 1,000 families, were forcefully evicted from their homes. Many Latino families who were undocumented had no choice in the matter.

Latino residents resisted this injustice through unofficial boycotts such as the “Battle of Chavez Ravine,” where they refused to leave their homes. The mayor and Dodger officials made countless false promises to Latino residents, assuring them that they would be paid for leaving their homes. These promises never came to pass.

After displacing many Latino families, in June of 1958 the housing units were wiped out and Dodger Stadium construction began. Many Latino families would feel resentment towards the Dodger franchise for years to come.

But today it seems the injustices at Chavez Ravine are nothing but a distant memory, as Latino communities now embrace the Dodgers. Now, what could be the cause to this historical amnesia? The answer lies within #34.

The #34 was embroidered on the jersey of none other than Fernando Valenzuela, the pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers who led them to the World Championship in 1981. This Mexican Major League baseball pitcher from Sonora Mexico represented the Latino community and connected the team to the Latino population in Los Angeles. This was the beginning of the Latino and Dodger relationship.

This connection, tying Latinos to the Dodgers, has continued throughout the years with players such as shortstop Luis Cruz, right fielder Yasiel Puig, and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.

Diana Chacon, a Chicana/o Studies major at UCLA, who affectionately calls the Left Field Pavilion at Dodger Stadium “La Raza Pavilion”, acknowledges the injustices for many Latinos during the 50s. However, she says they’re in the back of her mind when she’s at games. What the Dodgers have given to the Latino community since then have more than made up for it in her opinion.

A Dodger fan since birth, Chacon says Dodgers represent more than a sport. “The Dodgers remind me of my grandfather who used to take me to games.”

Chacon recalls her late grandfather, who became a fan during the Valenzuela era, feeling proud to see a ballplayer from Mexico playing for the Dodgers, especially during a time where few Latinos were in sports.

The Dodgers and Latino culture in Los Angeles have been bound together for decades. Despite the tumultuous beginning to the Dodgers’ arrival, Dodger Stadium represents something bigger to the Latino community. It’s a place where their culture and city can come together.

“The Dodgers allow me to feel connected to my city and my culture,” Chacon said. “Los Angeles is our city, Los Doyers is our team.”

-Katherine Batanero