Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Child's Right to Her Language and Our Responsibility as Her Ally

I'm at Camp Mark Seven, a camp located outside of Old Forge, NY that offers programs for Deaf people of all ages as well as KODAs (kids of deaf adults) and hearing people who want to improve their signing skills. I'm here to do just that. This is my second year. It's wonderful to be in a place were I can use ASL exclusively.

Today we heard little about the Deaf experience and what it was like for our teachers to grow up as part of a minority culture. Like many people who use a language other than English, my teachers experienced aggressive pressure to not use their natural first language, ASL.

I have no wish to co-opt the Deaf experience. That experience is one I will never have. But as a member of a minority culture, I do share the general experience of not being part of the dominant culture.

Our culture, as Americans, is one that values white, able-bodied, hearing, straight, English-speaking, slim, young, christian, Protestant people before all others. I realize that some of my friends who are white, able-bodied, hearing, straight, English-speaking, slim, young, christian, Protestant people might feel that they themselves value people that are different from yourselves. To that I say,well, that's probably why I love you. But you only have to ask a few of you "different" friends to hear some rather sad or shocking stories. Yes, and not from 50 years ago, either. From right now in 2010.

Even some of my friends that are part of a minority group may say that they themselves have never felt undervalued. To them I will point out that this kind of pressure can be extremely subtle. It doesn't have to be a sign that says, "We reserve the right to deny service" or "whites only." In someways that kind of under-valuation is easier to deal with because it is so obvious. When instead, it is wrapped in a cloak of a parent's love, it is so much harder to see. What good parent wouldn't want her child to have every advantage, including the advantage of being in the majority culture? But when that means the child is robbed of her natural language and full membership in her culture of origin, it is a profound and deep wrong.

Every person has a basic and inalienable right to be who they are. And most fundamental is the right to their own language. In my mind, depriving children of this is no less than a type of genocide and must be fought as furiously. Those of us who speak the majority language but understand this truth must be unflinching allies in the struggle to maintain the language rights of those around us.


Erin Esposito said...

I absolutely kissfist you, Clare! (smiling) You "get it"!!!! A rarity.... I love how much of an ally you are in our cause. You are an exemplary model ally. Keep it up! :)

Post a Comment