Saturday, June 15, 2013

"I am CODA, and I Know" Part One

Hello Everyone,

This is the first post in the “I am CODA, and I Know” series. Recently I learned that some people informed Alan Abarbanell, or, Abababa (did I sign that right), that I used his poetry work in my blog. To be honest, I love his poem. He calls it a CODA anthem, and I agree. While my work is titled “I am CODA, and I Know”, and his poem is titled “We are Coda, and We Know”, I did borrow it because it’s perfect. I just wanted to share that with you all. I didn’t mean for there to be any commotion about it. To me, it’s a sign of respect. So we (Alan and I) discussed it, and he let me know that he is ok with me using his title. I am going to go ahead with this, so Alan “Abababa” Abarbanell, thank you!

Now this blog is focused directly on Noelle’s (Campbell) blog post “War With CODAs”. I looked it over, thought at length about it, and analyzed it. So now I’m going ahead, and setting this up in point-counterpoint style. Here goes...

(Noelle) “War With CODAs” 
I am not deaf. I am not a child of deaf adults (CODA), but most of my experience with CODA’s is as a friend of a parent who is deaf. I am generalizing a lot in this article, and it might be more of a rant than actual commentary, so be warned. 

Noelle, in this article you say that you make a lot of generalizations, and well, you really do, but it’s not necessary. Your warning disclaimer is done in poor taste. When you make an announcement in public like that and then add a disclaimer to it so you can be excused is inexcusable. 

From the perspective of a parent, CODAs overwhelmingly come out of childhood as teenagers who want continual sympathy from both the hearing and deaf community.
BS! I myself have never tried to get any pity from either the Deaf or Hearing communities. Now some teenage CODAs will seek that out from the Deaf and hearing, but remember, it’s because they are TEENAGERS. It doesn’t matter if they are Deaf or hearing, both look to avoid any consequences from their parents or something like that. That generally is not a CODA specific thing. 

I have seen teenaged CODAs refuse to sign to their parents in public, which makes communication a pure bitch for someone who can’t turn their hearing on and off. I know how hard it is to raise a teenager, I have two that are grown and two well on the way to teenagehood, but CODA’s add the additional complication of language barriers.  

Huh? What language barriers? Are you referring to refusal to sign in public? Come on! Most teenagers regardless of being Deaf or hearing (or CODA) won’t talk to their parents when they are mad at them. That is a tendency of many teenagers. That really isn’t a “CODA” thing.

Teenage CODA’s to their deaf parents, are EMO without the clothes and make up. Imagine ALL your children walking around in skinny black jeans, black dyed hair, listening to mopey music and putting safety pins in their ears, or eyebrows, etc. That is what a CODA looks like from the perspective of a deaf parent, even if they look and act completely normal to you and me - the hearing people. 

In all my experiences being around Deaf parents, none of them have ever complained that their kids were EMO. NEVER. Some of them may even dress up a bit goth in all black, but they don’t continually gripe about it. They don’t complain about it any more than hearing parents of hearing children who act EMO/goth. 

As adults CODA’s can be even more annoying. They either make a complete break from Deaf Culture, or become a zealot intent that everyone be as ‘immersed’ in ASL when learning as they were. 

Statement untrue! Did some of us break from Deaf Culture? Sure. Did all of us? No way. And you say that CODAs wish to force everyone to learn ASL through immersion and constant exposure? We as a whole do not say that. I have been teaching ASL to hearing people for 9 years, and yes, I really believe that the best approach to learning ASL, for most people, is through consistent immersion in ASL. But think about that. They are in class once a week for 2 hours at a whack. There needs to be constant signing during those times because hearing people don’t necessarily have friends or partners to practice with, so they have little to no opportunity, and therefore it’s important that in class this is the focus. But at times some (my students) have needed to use voice because despite all my best efforts to explain things in ASL, some of it still goes over their heads. So I usually hold the last ten minutes or so of class as a “voice on” time to discuss what was confusing them so that they can understand what it means. It helps them moving forward to gain a better understanding and be able to improve their voice off sign. All of us just don’t think that way, some (hearing) people need it spoken, too. 

When I was learning ASL, it wasn’t the CODAs (who could hear and understand me) that taught me, it was the deaf and some very tolerant hearing interpreters. The children of deaf adults often do go into interpreting, though many shun it because they were forced into the position as interpreter for their parents. I understand the later perspective as a hearing wife of a deaf husband. When we go out, I am interpreter.

You need to understand something. Many of us CODAs did feel forced to interpret for our parents, but not just for them. We had to interpret for all the hearing people out there, too. The every day constant of fielding ignorant questions from the hearing can become very frustrating after a while. And with the influence of our Deaf parents’ frustrations with hearing people upon us, wow, it is true that some of us CODAs make generalizations and complain about it. I mean, what do you expect? You’re upset with CODAs because they refused to teach you sign? You really need to think about your own ignorance and limitations in your lack of understanding CODAs and their backgrounds. Instead of making generalizations of CODAs, why not respect our differences? You don’t understand us, so just respect that and leave it be. 

In my experience both in and out of the deaf community, CODAs that become interpreters are remarkably intolerant of people who are trying to learn ASL. Because they are so immersed in Deaf Culture they are automatically deferred to on all issues deaf that interpreters don’t want to address with the deaf. Here’s an example: Kieth Wann is famous in the deaf community as a Comedian. He is a CODA. Recently he engaged in a crusade to stop hearing people (mostly teenagers learning ASL on their own or at school) from posting ASL music videos. Music videos translated into ASL are ADORED by the deaf. Even the bad attempts they will tolerate as a ‘good try’ because there are so many good ones. He didn’t bother to ask his parents if they liked ASL videos - and he doesn’t respond to people who disagree with them, he just puts up a straw man argument about how he is trying to preserve the language.

That’s funny, because most of the Deaf people I know view amateur posts in ASL (Hey look! I know how to sign!) as a disappointment. Their awkward signing has many mistakes, and other hearing people tune in thinking ‘Oh cool! They’re signing! I can do that too!’, and that it’s somehow fluent sign they are seeing. Then they go ahead and copy that, making all the mistakes they just saw and didn’t realize. It’s not fluent sign. It’s spreading incorrect language to more hearing people, and that’s not right. Leaving that aside, did you approach Keith Wann yourself and ask him if he ever discussed ASL music videos with his parents? How do you know there wasn’t ever a conversation about it? Do you honestly, HONESTLY think the three of them never talked about it? Keith also said that he is trying to keep the language safe, and preserved, and he’s right in that. If amateurs keep posting these videos online, more hearing people who are thinking about learning ASL will be looking there, too, thinking these videos are (examples of) fluent sign. They’re really watching awkward signing rife with mistakes and grammatical errors, and that’s what will spread out amongst the hearing. If that happens, Deaf people will still be alright within their community, but all these hearing people will think they are doing correct ASL when it’s really not. I have a suggestion. All the amateur ASL students and beginning signers should have a disclaimer in the video’s description and title stating that “I am not a fluent ASL signer. I am a beginner.” Let us all know that. That’s fair because anything posted on the internet is ‘public’, meaning all of us should sense an inner responsibility to inform the viewers. Posting these without any disclaimer is irresponsible. So there you go.

      All languages evolve - ASL faster than most because it is so young and so heavily influenced by modern culture. You have just as much luck trying to stop it from changing as you do stopping kids from using textspeak in Facebook posts. Instead of encouraging people - as they had in the past when they weren’t whiny little man-childs - they belittle their efforts to learn the language.

Again, huh? You think ASL is evolving faster than other languages? How do you know? Do you have any research proving this? That is a biased opinion, and really ignorant to make such a statement in public. And you think that all of us CODAs refuse to encourage hearing people to learn ASL and sign? You really know nothing about us. Most CODAs want hearing to learn ASL because it’s more beneficial, far more respectful to our parents, and better communication all around. Plus, we (CODAs) won’t feel so (as you put it earlier) ‘forced’ (to be interpreters).

It isn’t as if ‘poor language’ use is unique to ASL. My Abuelo would get very terse with me for my poor Spanish skills, but he never made fun of my accent or my efforts when I actually used Spanish with him because he wanted me to speak to him in the language he was most comfortable with. This is the problem with CODA’s. They aren’t ‘most’ comfortable with ASL, they grew up FORCED to speak it. And I understand, almost universally, at one point or another in their young life, they resented having to use it when it made them stand out. But really, how is this different from being a Muslim who wears a hijab, or a Sikh who wears a turban? How is it different from being black in a white community or white in a black community? Everyone has their burdens, but while a black person might be able to get sympathy from one or the other race he is ‘forced’ to live in/with, he can rarely get sympathy from both cultures. That isn’t true for a CODA.

Honestly, I am ‘most’ comfortable with ASL over English because it is my first language. I didn’t feel forced to learn sign any more than any hearing child feels forced to use the language their hearing parents use. Its a pretty equal scenario. I wasn’t FORCED. You can think about it in two different ways. One being ‘forced’, and one being ‘it is what it is’. There is a big difference there. Any time I had to use sign in a situation that put all eyes on me was never an experience I hated, because in every one of those situations my parents were always proud of me. I never resented their pride in me. 

I go to a deaf branch of the LDS church because it is easier for my husband to socialize with the deaf and use ASL.  I am his interpreter there, but I am also a Sunday School teacher supervising the CODA’s in Primary (ages 3-11).  When we discussed doing songs in ASL for a program so the deaf parents could understand, the interpreter brought up a concern that the CODA’s don’t like being put in a position where they HAVE TO sign.  I countered with “so what?”  The hearing kids don’t like to be put in a position where they have to sing for parents.  I made the case that the program wasn’t being put on for the kids, it was for the parents to see how much the kids had learned, and the deaf parents wouldn’t know how much they had learned if they refused to sign it.

Whoa, first off, if the interpreter that said that to you is a CODA, then fine. If that interpreter isn’t a CODA then they have no experience or background with it, making them just as clueless as you are. Are you really taking their word for it? That’s a bit messed up. It’s true that most people, regardless of being hearing, Deaf, or CODA, don’t like being ‘forced’ to do anything. It’s natural. It goes back to my previous point, so let me elaborate some more. When I was in 4th grade, my school was putting together a show for all the parents to come and see. I was to stand on stage and sign two of the songs. Whew! At that time, my family had just moved to town, so the school was only few months old to me, and I hadn’t made many friends yet, just one or two. There was a part of me that was uncomfortable having to do this and hated the idea. (That part of me) didn’t want to do it. But did I have any resentment or regret for doing it? No. I saw my parents watching me sign away on stage and I could see the pride in their faces. That was a really positive experience because it really built my character. 

The interpreter wasn’t a CODA, but being a terp, she knew all the sad sob stories of CODA’s.  Every kid has a sob story.  I bet even Donald Trumps pampered princess could tell us some sob stories that would evoke the utmost sympathy from us.

Come on! These repeated generalizations are so ridiculous and unnecessary!

If our goal in life is to get sympathy, no one has it down better than CODA’s.  But if the point of life is to learn, grow and move on from your experiences, then many CODA’s have some serious growing up to do.  In the end, my experiences have shown that CODA’s (even my own who act decidedly CODA when I’m not around or when they think I’m not around) are just as troublesome, beautiful, heart-wrenching and redeemable as any child.  It’s just trying to get through those struggles with them (or watching them happen to friends) that’s the hard part.
Again, I’ll go back to my previous point. I didn’t hate doing these things, and I never sought sympathy from anyone while growing up. I’m very proud to be a CODA. If there’s one thing I’ve learned form my experience growing up it was this: the thoughts and opinions of all you bigots out there don’t really matter. It’s nothing I really need to see again and again. 
You said that if the goal of life is to learn, grow and move on from our experiences, well then, that is just good advice. It really is. Perhaps you should follow it yourself. Your making these generalized comments (about CODAs) in a public forum. Think about what’s happening. You have a responsibility, too. Your statements ARE your responsibility. Do you remember a man from decades ago called Jimmy the Greek? Well, instead of me taking time to explain who he was, you can Google it yourself, then you’ll understand what I mean.

Until next time,

R. M.