|Signing in Puerto Rican|
From Centro, Journal of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies
Signing in Puerto Rican, by Andres Torres, is an autobiographical account of a hearing child growing up in a family of two Deaf parents. Although having two Deaf parents is a unique enough situation, Torres’ family is also Puerto Rican. Being Puerto Rican makes Torres a minority within the dominant Hearing culture and having Deaf parents makes him a minority (in Deaf culture) within a minority (Puerto Rican culture). This is not a typical story of a child coming of age in New York City but a story of a child seeking to integrate several identities: Puerto Rican, Catholic, Deaf world, and Hearing world.
A hearing child of Deaf adults is called a coda (“child of Deaf adults”). This term is relatively new and was adopted in the literature about twenty-six years ago in a master’s thesis by Millie Brother, also a coda. Though Torres grew up before the term “coda” was coined, there existed in the DEAF WORLD a sign that indicated who he was and where he belonged: the sign was MOTHER-FATHER-DEAF, a compound of three signs. Torres had an identity in the DEAF WORLD that placed him in a unique group. Unlike his easy acceptance by the DEAF WORLD, achieving an identity in the Hearing world would be much more difficult. He takes us on a ride to his integration of identities beginning with his opening chapter “The A train” and ending with the acknowledgment of the many borders he must still cross.
During this ride, the reader begins to understand how a child traverses and integrates the attitudes, beliefs, mores, and behavior exemplified by people from several cultures. Torres navigates this complicated terrain of being “other” somewhat similarly to the “double consciousness” of E. B. Du Bois as Torres presents his story as both an insider and an outsider, only his story is a hit more complicated. Most of us only have to contend with two cultural frames, the dominant one in which we live and the immediate one that we tend to live our everyday lives around, a simple “us” vs. “them.” Torres’ story expands our understanding of this phenomenon from a unique and little known perspective: that of a hearing child of two Deaf Puerto Rican parents.
Through its socialization, cultural attitudes and beliefs, American society conditions the average citizen to believe that to be Deaf is a negative circumstance in life. This belief is rooted in how the general public and many professionals view people who consider themselves Deaf. We have been conditioned to see deafness as a problem, and those who are Deaf as having a loss of something. Yet, Deaf people, no matter what their ethnic origin, do not view being Deaf as having lost something. The average Deaf parent does not see his or her life as negative as a result of deafness. Instead, they locate the problem in how the Hearing world treats and views them. In this book, we begin to understand how a young child develops into a whole person in the face of this contrasting view of what is valid and what is not.
Andrés Torres is visiting distinguished lecturer in the Department of Latin American and Puerto Rican Studies at Lehman College, City University of New York.
Print Edition: ISBN 978-1-56368-417-3, 5½ x 8½ trade paperback, 242 pages, photographs
E-Book: ISBN 978-1-56368-437-1
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