Sign of Change
A student and her mother are sitting in a classroom after school, discussing everything from grades to classroom behavior with the teacher. At first, this looks like a normal parent-teacher conference, but if you look a little closer, you’ll see that they’re communicating on a notepad, writing notes back and forth in silence. This may seem out of the ordinary, but for sophomore Evelyn Macasaet, it’s part of her everyday life.
Macasaet is a CODA, a child of deaf adult(s).
Her father, born in the Philippines, contracted polio and suffered an extremely high fever. As a result, he lost hearing in one ear and became hard of hearing. Born in Mexico, her mother was born fully deaf after her mother contracted the German measles disease during pregnancy.
“I don’t see it as really a struggle. It was more of a learning opportunity and more of an adapting system that I had to go through. If I missed a certain day, I would have to make up that work but it wasn’t necessarily a battle. It was more of learning and being able to adapt to my situation,” Macasaet said.
From the day she was born, her parents began teaching her American Sign Language (ASL). Starting with finger spelling, Macasaet progressed to learning more complex phrases, and when she was eight months old, her parents turned solely used ASL to communicate with her.
“[Compared to other languages, learning ASL] was really different, mainly because I couldn’t hear my parents’ voices. There was no one teaching me through the language that I already knew. It was really hard at first because I couldn’t hear what it was. Their voices weren’t there to explain how to sign and different rules to the language,” Macasaet said.
In addition to learning ASL from her parents, Macasaet also takes ASL as a foreign language class at school. Although she is fluent, she still learns different ways to sign certain phrases and enjoys communicating with her peers.
“[ASL is] a really cool way to learn about other people’s [stories], to learn that there’s another side rather than just speaking with their voice,” Macasaet said. “[In ASL class], I learn that there’s a lot of different ways to express your feelings through this certain language. There’s so many versions of ASL and worldwide sign language that it’s impossible to know every single one. It’s not a competition, it’s more of [Mr. Wilson] learning from me and I’m learning from him.”
Being a CODA, Macasaet has had to learn to adapt with her unique situation. She first discovered that her family dynamic was different from others when she entered first grade. During parent-teacher conferences, her mother was limited to using only a notepad to communicate with teachers. Now, her parents primarily use email to communicate with the school, and Macasaet is often questioned about why her parents are unable to directly call the school.
“There would always be this assumption that I didn’t want anyone to talk to my parents because I was such a bad kid at school. But really, I wasn’t a bad kid, and it wasn’t the fact that I didn’t want my parents to find out what I was doing at school. They didn’t know how to do it,” Macasaet said.
As Macasaet’s ASL skills developed, she began learning how to interpret. Now, she accompanies her parents when they have doctor’s appointments or other meetings.
“[It made me] definitely get closer to my mom because I would go everywhere with her to interpret and help her understand situations better. Those days that I spent with her were kind of like a bonding experience in a way,” Macasaet said. “[On the other hand], my dad doesn’t really need me to interpret [all the time] because he’s really good at being independent with his voice.”
Although Macasaet has grown to accept them, she still experiences and notices discrimination.
“Back then, deaf people weren’t really accepted. They were more neglected. No one wanted to communicate with them. They were seen as a burden rather than actual people. People wanted to force English on them and force speaking on them,” Macasaet said. “I feel really hurt, because I feel like it’s really disrespectful to my parents. You should try to understand other people’s situation. I get that some people don’t understand, but it’s like at least try and at least attempt to help the person.”
Despite the difficulties of her situation, Macasaet cherishes being part of Deaf culture. According to Dr. Barbara Kannapel, a deaf sociolinguist, American Deaf culture is the set of learned behaviors of a group of people who are deaf and who have their own language, values, rules and traditions. Macasaet was first introduced to Deaf culture at 10 years old when her parents took her to a Deaf Expo.
“It’s like a festival for deaf people [where] deaf people come together and share their culture. I was so fascinated with the entire thing because that’s when I was truly introduced to what deaf people do and who they are,” Macasaet said.
Through Deaf culture, Macasaet has discovered an entirely different aspect of her parents’ culture and life, finding a way to connect to them even though she is not inherently deaf.
“It’s really cool to not even just have your parents being a part of it, but you being a part of it as well. It’s a whole other culture that you’re accepted in. That automatically gives you two languages to learn, that automatically gives you two languages that you should already know so it opens up a whole new world,” Macasaet said. “When you’re going into another culture and learning about another culture, it’s a lot of things you have to learn and a lot of guidelines you have to learn but it’s really fun just to know that there’s another side of new people.”
Macasaet recognizes the growing acceptance of the deaf but still hopes to spread awareness of Deaf culture, a community that not many people are aware of.
“It’s important now that the Deaf culture spread, so that way people understand that it’s not back then. It’s now, and it’s a point in time when we have and should accept everyone for who they are. Being deaf is who they are. It doesn’t necessarily give them their identity, but it’s who they are. It influences the fact that the deaf culture needs to be spread around so that way more people in the world can be accepted,” Macasaet said.
In order to spread Deaf culture, Macasaet believes that implementing ASL programs in high schools similar to the program offered at Walnut High School will help teach teenagers tolerance. In addition, she encourages deaf people to sign more in order to become confident with their communication skills.
“I see students signing to each other while walking to class and it’s like, ‘woah, that’s so cool.’ I think it’s really good for teenagers [to] learn something that they didn’t think they would be able to learn,” Macasaet said. “Deaf people should not be insecure about it because when deaf people are around hearing people, they try to act like hearing people. There’s only a few deaf people who are truly confident in their signing, so I think they need to sign more around hearing people so hearing people could visualize the entire thing.”
As she spends more time within the Deaf community, Macasaet has learned to be more appreciative of her ability to verbally communicate, which most people take for granted.
“My parents had so many struggles, so I’ve learned to not take things for granted, because my parents never took things for granted. They have all these struggles that they have to go through and deal with every single day. I’m just glad that I have the opportunity and a way to communicate with them,” Macasaet said. “I wasn’t born deaf, but I would be perfectly fine being deaf.”
By Sarah Aie, Longform editor
Photo by Emily Ng