“Do you sign?” “No” I replied honestly. “I learned how to speak just like everyone else here.” “No.” she said. “No?” I repeated. She seemed agitated by me. Then she spoke and signed at the same time. “If you are deaf, the first language you learn must be American Sign Language.” I had not known that I was shaking my head when she said this. She asked why I was shaking my head. “Why does it have to be the first language I learn?” “Because you’re deaf.” I felt whispers around the classroom. I remembered I was trying to think of an articulate way to refute her belief without being offensive. Then I replied. “But what if I come from a household that only speaks Spanish, wouldn’t my first language be Spanish, then English because I go to school where they speak English and then maybe ASL because it stems from the English language?” Students started to agree, for the class was filled with many cultures and different walks of life. I remembered a student had said that his first language was Mandarin and then English. More students had asked why she felt that my first language had to be ASL. It was never my intent to strike agitation or upset my then professor. She just had a belief that I didn’t agree with. I remembered from that day forward she was hard on me. After each oral exam I had she would always sign that ‘I was sloppy; I had sloppy signs.’ The other deaf student in the class would always assure me that my signs weren’t sloppy. I’ve always looked back at that moment and thought I must have been a very different deaf person than those she had been accustomed to knowing.
There are deaf people who wear hearing aids and speak, regardless of the language it is. There are deaf people who don’t wear hearing aids and who don’t use their voice. This is all out of preference and the way they were brought up. I was brought up to wear a hearing device and use my voice to communicate. These are the decisions my family established for me. I don’t know what my life would have looked like if I didn’t have parents who were so determined to see me use my voice and hear theirs. As an adult, after reflecting on my life and watching videos on my progress, I am ever so grateful to my parents who made that bold decision in breaking the stereotype of what is expected of a deaf individual. I truly believe that because I started school and speech therapy at an early age that it instilled an ambition in me to learn. I was inspired to go to college. That drive, to learn, never diminished. Los Angeles is a huge city with many cultures, languages and walks of life. I am a deaf Latina, who speaks only English and wears a bone conduction hearing aid. That is simply who I am. In being a native Los Angeleno, it has always resonated in me that being different shouldn’t be shameful but something seen as unique and special. So for those of you who are feeling abashed about being different, I bid you to reflect on your life and its challenges and to see that we are alike, such that everyone is different, unique and special.
Samantha Dudley is an English major and recent alumna of West Los Angeles College. Her creative writing can be seen here.