|Signing in Puerto Rican|
From Centro, Journal of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, cont’d.
Torres introduces us to his extended family and we find that his family is not only unique in the Hearing world but also unique in the DEAF WORLD. His mother, father, cousins, aunts, and uncles come from families with extended Deaf lineage in the Las Piedras section of Puerto Rico. This predominance of genetic deafness is quite rare, as approximately 95% of Deaf people are born into hearing families and have hearing children themselves. Family life is centered around Andrew (“Ahtay” as his parents pronounce his name). Since he is an only child, he alone bears the responsibility of managing the border issues between his Deaf parents and the Hearing world. He is the main interpreter or translator when either his parents cross the border with him into the Hearing world or the Hearing world crosses into their home or the DEAF WORLD. One example of the Hearing world crossing into the DEAF WORLD is his father’s love of baseball. Ahtav interprets baseball games in sign language as the games are relayed on the radio. Codas are usually very adept at keeping these kinds of border crossings manageable. Crossing the border into the Hearing world requires having to interpret concepts beyond your age of understanding, which can create huge cognitive dissonance. In his traversing of one cultural boundary after another, we learn how some of this cognitive dissonance is resolved.
In this story, we see that Andrew must grow up essentially on his own. He must find his way in the Hearing world with little guidance from his parents. Luckily for him, a Hearing aunt is available to help answer questions about the Hearing world and to understand how his own immediate family fits into the neighborhood and the world. Andrew will grow up to be a Hearing adult and never have an official place in the DEAF WORLD similar to the one his parents have achieved. As with all children, he must grow up and become someone with an integrated identity. However, he (unlike most codas) does not have a parental model to achieve this. Codas are constantly struggling to understand the norms and values of the Hearing culture. In Andrew’s quest to search for a Hearing person to help him obtain a sense of his identity in contrast to that of his parents, he must cross into other cultural worlds. His parents have one foot in the Catholic world and thus Torres finds himself coping with both the education system and the beliefs of that world. For Andrew, crossing the border to enter Catholic high school creates an escape. High school is nirvana, as there is no contact with his parents and no need to explain who he is and where he comes from. High school is a place where what he accomplishes and the struggles he entertains are his own and not a reflection of what people feel he must do on behalf of his Deaf parents. This struggle to separate himself from his Deaf parents is a common one among codas.
Torres uses his participation in the struggle for Puerto Rican independence as a metaphor for his life at home. He pours all his energy into the political and personal feelings of belonging to something: the movement to achieve Puerto Rican independence. In Torres’ case, he struggles to be independent without feeling guilty that he is not taking care of his parents, which is an issue faced by almost all codas, especially the oldest female child or (as in Torres’ case) the only hearing child in the family. We see the beginning of his move to achieve an independent identity from his parents when he changes his name from Andrew (Anglo) to Andrés (Puerto Rican).
Eventually, the author comes to see that there is a place for him both in the Hearing world and in the Deaf world through his connection to his Deaf family. Ultimately, he is able to integrate the experience of the boy, Andrew, into the man, Andrés. It takes longer for him to achieve this process, but achieve it he does. Today, Andrés Torres is a successful university professor.
This journey to adulthood demonstrates the pride, the normalcy, and the numerous cultural border crossings of a multicultural family, but it also relates the difficulty Deaf adults face in dealing with society at large and the hurdles a hearing child of Deaf adults must pass through to reach a positive sense of self. This book is for those who are interested in Puerto Rican issues, cultural issues in childhood, issues of Deaf families with hearing children, and those who are interested in cross-cultural relationships involving Deaf people. This hook is an easy read, both enjoyable and informative, and filled with much information about new topics not typically encountered in the lives of Hearing people.
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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