No matter how many times have we met Deaf people around the world, we always get that same thrill, especially those who lives in another country since we have our differences but still share a deep connection: deafhood.
We can’t express enough how fortunate we are to meet different Deaf people around the world, to learn their stories and their experiences. The year of 2014 and 2015 were rewarding experiences. Each year, we aim to meet different Deaf people around the world. In the year of 2016, we have yet again to have the privilege to meet these wonderful (and maybe not so wonderful) people.
My friend with no traveling experience had asked me if I would accompany him to the East Coast for a few weeks. Of course, I said yes! During our trip, we had made it our goals to meet other Deaf people.
Ask any Deaf what to see in Washington D.C. and I can guarantee they will tell you, “Gallaudet University.” It is the only university in the world that provides education that focuses on Deaf and Hard of Hearing students. Gallaudet University is named after Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, the first founder of Deaf Education and built the first school for the Deaf.
Being on campus and seeing everyone signing everywhere, I felt so welcome. I can’t believe just how convenient and accessible this university is. It made me look back on my own education and how much I struggled with accessibility. In addition, it made me felt so happy to see Deaf people are using their education to make a difference in the world.
Deaf are capable of doing anything, except hear
If you visit Gallaudet University, be sure to check out the visitor center and their museum to learn more about the history of Galladuet!
During my stay in New York, I met a Hearing couchsurfer who had introduced me to a Deaf activist. I was amazed by how involved she was and working her way to spread Deaf awareness within the city. She explained that there were 10 certified ASL interpreters but with the high demands, they are often hard to get; so, companies would provide non-certified interpreters.
I also had learned that there is not enough awareness because sometimes a wrong type of interpreter would be provided, such as i.e. a Spanish-speaking interpreter for a Deaf person. The Deaf activist had also explained that many Deafs in court don’t always understand what’s going on so they would shake their head, not knowing what they agreeing to. It causes more confusion and frustration on both ends.
We have to be our own advocate to be heard.
At the time when I was in NYC, there was a huge protest with the Deaf rights movement: a Deaf woman was arrested and she was denied her rights to have an interpreter present during her custody. They had announced that NYPD would host a public forum to learn more about how to communicate and accommodate with the Deaf community. I was unable to attend at that time, but I was hopeful that the NYPD would improve on their connection with the Deaf community.
I was honestly shocked by how behind NYC was on American with Disabilities Act (ADA) as compared to Los Angeles where I have been provided interpreters right away whenever I requested for interpreters. So this was an eye-opening experience for me.
When you hear of New Orleans, what comes to your mind? Of course, the Mardi Gras!
Stacey and I were so thrilled to attend Mardi Gras! At the same time, we wanted to know about the Deaf community there. En route, we had learned about a Deaf survivor, Hansen Touchard in Hurricane Katrina and we knew we just had to meet him and his story. Check out his story on Youtube!
Hansen became our lovely guide throughout the Mardi Gras and introduced us to his Deaf friends. What happens in New Orleans, stay in New Orleans 😉
Stacey and I were also shocked when we were provided an interpreter for the swamp tour! It was such an amazing experience!
We met another Deaf traveler, Jason, who is from New York. He shared his experiences of solo traveling in Japan, Thailand and Cambodia and who eventually accept his Deaf identity, becoming proud of who he is. Annnd he’s quite a spontaneous traveler like us! He joined along for our trip in Central America at the last minute, yearning to travel and learn more about Deaf culture.
Before Stacey and I left to Costa Rica for backpacking, we hope to meet someone in San Jose to hang out and make new friends. Stacey made a video in one of the Deaf Facebook groups, asking if anyone knows who lives in San Jose. Sure enough, a young male responded that he lives in San Jose and would love to make new friends. We were thrilled! However, our days in San Jose were limited and there were changes of plan. We, unfortunately, did not get a chance to meet him, but we did FaceTime with him to introduce ourselves! Hopefully, in the future, he and I get to meet one day.
While Stacey and I were walking around in Manuel Antonio National Park, we bumped into this Deaf man in his 40s from Spain who happened to be traveling solo. He was signing in Spanish Sign Langauge (LSE) but we could understand few of his signs. We were chatting about who we are, where we from, how was our trip and told us to contact him again when visiting Spain in the future! Another friend across the world! 🙂
Ah, Managua. The capital of Nicaragua. I knew that there had to be some schools or type of organizations, so I had to search relentlessly and found that there is an organization called Asociación Nacional de Sordos de Nicaragua (ANSNIC). I eventually made my way there and they were quite surprised to see an American Deaf person but nevertheless, they were still welcoming.
We had noticed that our sign was different, their national sign language is Lenguaje de Signos Nicaragüense (LSN). The director there also knew International Sign Language (ISL) which we had used to communicate with each other. Through him, I learned so much about their history and the daily struggles they faced in Nicaragua.
I had learned that Deaf have very limited support from the government in Nicaragua and also aren’t able to drive, travel and have very limited rights such as they do not have American with Disabilities Act (ADA) protecting them from discrimination. There was also a Deaf lady who was arrested and was placed in jail for one year without having an interpreter or anything, it wasn’t until the director went in there and fought to get her out. I was stunned to hear about their dilemmas and felt so disheartened at just how little support they get from their country.
Inside the Deaf association, I also had met a piñata maker, teacher, children and local residents who are all Deaf. Keep an eye out for upcoming written post and video explaining more about this association!
In Granada, there is a cafe where they hire Deaf people to work at, called Café de las Sonrisas. It was such a lovely cafe! We love how they put up signing dictionary on their wall, so that the customers can learn some quick basic Nicaraguan Sign Language (ISN). We also love how they included images in the menu (such as food, NO onion symbol, etc.) so that Hearing customers can point at it instead of telling their orders. You can watch the video here.
Stacey and I were chilling in this small plaza in Leon, and we happened to see three people who were signing to each other in ISN. A young female was sitting on the bench while looking up sideway as two people, a male, and another female, were signing to each other. We both wanted to go say hello but wasn’t sure. As we debated, we decided just to try it. When we came up to them and signed, “Are you all Deaf?” The girl on the bench shook her head, “no.” We were thrown off the fuckin’ bat. Stacey thought,
Wait, did you say no? But –
Then one of us asked, “Do you sign?” (even though we already saw them signing earlier)
The same girl shook her head again.
If you don’t sign, then how the hell are you understanding what I’m saying?
So we looked at each other, already feeling a bad vibe. We were about to head off before –
“Yes, we know sign and we are Deaf,” said a male.
We nodded, and Stacey looked at the female who was sitting on the bench with an emotionless face. She lied.
She then said, “um yeah we’re Deaf.” They probably lied for some reasons. Stacey knew that maybe it was probably because it was such a bad day for them, or maybe they were in the moment of serious discussion. Who knows?
So we engaged with the male and the other female asked about us, who we are and where we were from, while the woman on the bench seemed to be uninterested. We understand some signs they were saying, and because they were mouthing in Spanish, Stacey knows Spanish. Then they started signing to each other in ISN, and Stacey caught some signs and Spanish that we are American and have money, this and that. Those typical American stereotypes. They also mentioned how Deaf Americans often get too excited meeting other Deaf people, which thrown us off.
Since they were obviously not having it, we signed to each other in American Sign Langauge (ASL) and did not mouth as we signed. We closed our lips, as we told each other that we should go.
The thing is, although this wasn’t what we expected, we have to consider some factors that maybe they are jealous or just not in the mood to interact with people. Maybe they are prejudiced for reasons.
And quite honestly? We do have the privilege to travel, meet different people and the likes comparing to Deaf Nicaraguans. What’s shocking is that Deaf Nicaraguans are banned from traveling out of the country.
Yes, you heard me, Nicaragua does not allow Deaf Nicaraguans to travel out of the country. We took this situation as a learning experience.
I was so thrilled that there are a Deaf school in Antigua, Guatemala and knew I had to make my way there. Through my hostel, I had hired a taxi driver to take me to the school. Since my trip to Guatemala was quite spontaneous, I showed up at their door unannounced but they still welcome me anyway. I had met the director, Alvaro Ernesto and a Deaf American woman, Brenda who is a teacher that’s involved with the Peace Corps along with her husband, Len.
As soon as I walked into the classroom, smiles were lit up all around. I got to observed the classroom and I was truly touched by how the children’s active participation in class. I can feel just how much the children viewed this school as their secondary home, a place of belonging. They had asked me about America and I got to play with them. I fell in love with the two youngest boys there because they were so curious about my camera and had wanted to help me film. I was truly sad when I had to leave at the end of the day.
To see the beautiful Tikal, I had to book with a tour agency. Keep in mind, Deaf people do not like taking tours because uhhhh well, we can’t hear unless we have a tour guide that knows ASL but that’s highly unlikely. One of the reasons why we don’t like tours is explained through one of our experience in Taiwan.
At the beginning of the tour, I had noticed a man speaking with the tour guide and then would turn back and gesture to another man. I went up to him and said, “You Deaf?”. He signed yes! I was shocked and soo happy to meet a Deaf man on the same tour, that was luck!!! What is even more funnier is that we were staying at the same hostel, and we sat on the same bus going to Tikal! Had I taken the tour at a different time, we would have totally missed each other!
I was so excited to see another Deaf traveler, and guess what? He’s from Italy! He knew International Sign Language very well and was able to communicate with me. We both took the time to learn about each other and about the Deaf community in our country.
Ah, The Power of DeafHood
You’ve never ceased to amaze us❤️