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Deaf Peddler: Chapter Three

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The cows, who included both hearing and deaf people, had smuggled the peddlers into Los Angeles with false immigration papers. Once in the United States, the peddlers were transported to New York City, where they were forced each day to go into the subway system to peddle key chains and other trinkets. They were living in squalid conditions and given minimal money for food and transportation. Their immigration papers had been confiscated by the cows, and few of them were literate in Spanish, let alone English or American Sign Language.

They were trapped by their illegal status and their inability to communicate until two of them were able to communicate with someone at Newark Airport who knew how to sign. Their plight was reported to the police, who got immigration agents, with the assistance of Spanish-speaking sign language interpreters, to raid the apartments.

This situation represents a worst-case scenario of the peddler-cow arrangement. While the peddlers lived in horrid conditions, the cows earned about $21,000 per week. The story also points out that since opportunities for deaf Americans have improved, making them less likely to peddle, cows have had to seek out others to do their work. According to an article in The New York Times, ďthe flood of new immigrants from Latin America, Asia, and Eastern Europe in the last three decades has replenished the pool of deaf people living in isolation and need.Ē

After this incident, similar Mexican deaf peddling rings were uncovered in North Carolina, Chicago, and Los Angeles. The National Association for the Deaf (NAD) offered assistance to the peddlers, an act which brought accusations of hypocrisy from working peddlers who remembered the NADís vehement anti-peddling campaign from the 1950s. I would like to think that NADís new approach is evidence of progress, rather than a sign of hypocrisy. The NAD has turned its recent attention to matters of civil rights, accessibility, and communication technology, proof of a broader political focus on empowerment for the entire Deaf community.

By that fall, I was slowly making my way up to Seattle. The cross-country trip didnít seem quite as glamorous as it had in the beginning; I frequently slept in my van and invented other money-saving ways to take care of my personal needs. For bathing, I would park my van in a motel parking lot early in the morning. Iíd watch for motel guests to sign out, leaving the door to their rooms open. When I spotted an open room, Iíd head in and take a quick shower, knowing I had some time before the maid came in to clean. It worked great and I saved a fortune. Occasionally, a maid did wander in, but I would gesture that I was deaf and hadnít heard her knock. Usually she would hustle right out, all apologies. She couldnít know I wasnít the roomís official guest, just a wanderer trying to stay clean and save money.

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