“Visiting the California School of the Deaf in Fremont” in this week’s issue of the MANILA MAIL (Oct. 1-7, 2014)

Pilipinasblitz Forever
A column by Bles Carmona
For the week of October 1-7, 2014

VISITING THE CALIFORNIA SCHOOL OF THE DEAF IN FREMONT

Almost a year ago, I went to the open house of the California School of the Deaf (CSD) in Fremont, CA. It was one of the requirements for one of my classes at Chabot College at that time, American Sign Language (ASL) 64, the most basic level. The following was the reaction paper I wrote after my visit.

“I am writing this on Nov. 11, 2013 (Monday, Veterans Day), the same day that I attended the CSD Open House in the Fremont campus. I wanted to put it down on paper at once, while the experience is still fresh in my mind, and before I get deluged by other requirements from my other subjects towards the end of the semester.

The first thing I did was just to circle the grounds, looking at the numbered buildings, trying to get a sense of the size of the campus. Except for speaking people here and there, it was mostly quiet, which at first disoriented me. From similar previous events that I’ve attended, my experience had been that loud music would be blaring, and that speaking people would almost be shouting at each other to be heard above the other noises in the gathering. I could see a lot of people confidently signing away. Man, they sign sooo fast! I’m just watching from the sidelines but it’s hard for me to keep up with what’s being said. I was especially touched when I observed some children who already have the ability to express themselves in sign language. I tried to put myself in their shoes, but I failed miserably because I couldn’t imagine myself without the power of hearing and speech from a young age. As I observed these children, my admiration for them grew in proportion to what I perceive to be the “difficulties” of being deaf in a mostly hearing and speaking world. It’s a good thing, therefore, that there are schools like CSD that serve these students, instilling confidence and life skills so that they can navigate the world around them.

After circling the perimeters of the campus, I decided to buy some hot chocolate from the Early Childhood Education stand. Since I forgot how to sign “hot chocolate,” I just pointed at their written signboard. When the lady signed “hot chocolate,” I quickly imitated her and nodded my head. When she handed me my cup, I was able to sign: “Toilet, where?” (That much I remembered.) She answered me with hand gestures which I understood.

Next, I went to the library where there was a book fair and art exhibit going on. I took a couple of photos of artworks that I liked. One photo shows “It’s Raining Audists Outside” by student Yordi Morales which strongly resembles a specific series of paintings by my favorite Surrealist, the Belgian-born René Magritte. Another photo shows “Deaf Identity Shattered” by Jasmine Sanchez on the left and “a World of Language is in Our Hands” by LiAn Jackson on the right. Apparently there is an art movement called DeVIA art (Deaf View/Image Art) which expresses Deaf perspectives, experience, and insights. Art teacher David Call is a well-known DeVIA artist. From an early age, I have always appreciated various forms of art, so I am glad that the students of CSD have a venue for self-expression. I did notice that hands and eyes seem to figure a lot in many of the works of art that I saw in the exhibit. I assume that this is logical, since the Deaf and hard of hearing do use their hands and eyes/facial expressions in their regular communications. I also assume that these young artists felt compelled to depict hands and eyes since these are within the realm of their everyday experiences. In the same way that aspiring writers are advised to “write from what they know,” I would think that these gifted artists were given a similar advice in what to portray in their artworks. Based on what I saw in the exhibit, the student-artists of CSD are a very talented group indeed!

Then from 11:45 am to 12:10 pm, I decided to join the Campus Life Tour which started at the High School Activity Center #15. There was a man who gave an orientation in ASL and a woman who interpreted via speech for him. At the same time, there was another man who interpreted in Spanish for a Latina student in the group. I must confess that had it not been due to the lady interpreter, I would not have caught up with what the man was signing. Then our big group was split into two and we toured a couple of cottages, one for boys and another for girls, which are part of their Independent Living Skills (ILS) program, a stay-in high school program with provision for after-school activities, counseling, and training in ILS.

Finally, I went over to the gym where CSD is having its Deaf Services Faire. There were a lot of vendors, from those selling their handmade arts and crafts to a couple of booths offering mobile communication options for the Deaf, like the “ntouch Mobile” with the SVRS* smart phone app (*Sorenson Video Relay Service). But the one that drew my attention most was the Bay Area Asian Deaf Association (BAADA) booth. I greeted the lady and wrote on a piece of paper: “Do you have Filipino members?” She wrote back: “Yes, our BAADA President is from the Philippines.” Then she showed me one of their organization’s newsletters and pointed out the photo of the current Filipina president, Ms. Maria Tanya Guzman-Viera. Then I asked her in ASL what her name was, and she signed: “Michelle Y.” When I got home, I took a look at their website (www.baada.us) and learned that I was actually talking to Ms. Michelle Yook who is a Board Member of BAADA.

In summary, my experience of attending the CSD Open House has been very enriching. It gave me a glimpse of a different world. I did not feel nervous about communicating and I was glad to use the basic ASL that I knew to ask questions and sustain mini-conversations. Personally, I have always been a seeker of solitude and silence, but the Deaf community takes silence to a whole new level. I could never totally say that I know what a Deaf person goes through, although now I have a better idea. From what I have seen today, there is a strong Deaf community around us which is very supportive in encouraging the education, self-expression, and independence of its members.”

***********

Find advisor Blesilda44 at KEEN.com, 1-800-ASK-KEEN (1-800-275-5336), extension 05226567 either by phone or chat: Mon-Fri 7-10 pm, Sat-Sun 7-11 pm Pacific. I speak English, Tagalog, and some Spanish. For personal readings, email me here: pilipinasblitz@gmail.com

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