I walked into the deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH) classroom on a day like any other. Yet this day was different—a sense of discomfort washed over me. I felt like an outsider; I couldn’t figure out why.
Maybe it was because of the way my hands looked. I could not sign like the rest of the kids. My skin color also stood out. One day at lunch, my classmates signed to me that I was pale, white and different.
“We are chocolate milk but you are white milk,” they taunted me with their words.
According to them, if I started drinking chocolate milk, my skin would darken. After an overload of chocolate milk, I felt queasy, like I was going to throw up any second.
Obviously, my experience with Deaf kids was not the best. Growing up, I have had a negative view of Deaf people based off my childhood.
Personally, I have lived more in the hearing world. All of my friends are hearing, and besides my brother, so are all of my family members. I have wanted to socialize with Deaf people more recently, but I have been scared. This would take me out of my comfort zone.
A couple of months ago, the opportunity came up to participate in a Deaf/hard-of-hearing art show. The idea of this made me extremely nervous. What would I do around Deaf people? How would we communicate? How would they react to my appearance? My head was spinning with questions. Applying for this event was a risk, but I was up for the challenge and had hopeful expectations. The show would be a trial run to see if I could function in the Deaf world.
On June 2nd, the participating artists, staff and other special guests attended the VIP party for the Florida Deaf Art Show (FDAS). I went with a group of helpers including two interpreters.
When I first arrived, all four of the board members (who are Deaf) excitedly welcomed me with hellos and questions. They wanted to sign to me directly; they signed so fast! I was speechless, which is not common for me! Thanks to my interpreters, the communication was smooth.
The board members were so sweet! I was really surprised by their kindness. More Deaf and hard-of-hearing artists and volunteers introduced themselves to me, asking questions about my work. They were so friendly and curious about how I do my art.
The next night at the public show was overwhelming! Countless people came up to me to say hello and ask by my work! I didn’t know what to do with all the compliments—especially because all of them were coming from Deaf people. There were about 350 people total in attendance that evening.
Never before had I been around so many Deaf people at one time. The room was hot; felt like I was going to panic. Yet again, I was thankful for my interpreters helping me with communication and relaying my answers to their questions.
Overall, I am thankful for the event. It was a wonderful experience and great opportunity to get my artwork out and to have my perspective on the Deaf community shift. I was wrong to make a generalization about the Deaf community based off just a couple of old experiences.
“Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
Isaiah 43:18-19a ESV