In class there has been discussion about citizenship and the struggle to obtain such status within American history. Like my other classmates, I combine my own experiences with what I learn in class. However, I find myself coming to a different conclusion than many others when looking at American citizenship. Not everyone wants to become a complete American citizen, and give up a piece of their identity and culture in the pursuit. I look to the deaf community, and I look to my two deaf grandparents. I remember efforts of past Michigan governors like John Engler to integrate deaf students into hearing districts throughout Michigan. I see and read about the anger that so many deaf young men deal with, caused by those who confuse deaf with dumb. The truth is that deaf people need each other for support, just like when we depend on members of our own community when times are difficult. This doesn’t mean that those who are hearing cannot be valued friends or family members, this just means that the deaf have their own language, values, and culture. The preservation of deaf culture is usually a silent struggle but one of great importance.
Many people who are hearing do not realize that the deaf actually have their own college, and quite a prestigious one at that.
Gallaudet University was founded in 1864 as a college built for those who are deaf and hard of hearing, right in the heart of Washington, DC. Boasting 1,800 students and over 18,000 alumnae, Gallaudet University is a good sized college with over 39 majors. I look at Gallaudet as an example of a deaf student succeeding within their own community. When I was at U of M – Flint, in many of my classes we had a single deaf girl who would have an interpreter follow her around to all of her classes so she could understand what the professor was lecturing. She always seemed out of place, and despite performing well in her classes I have no doubt in my mind that she would have preferred an academic environment where the classes were built with her in mind, surrounded by other intelligent students that she could talk and study with. I felt sorry for her, and I could tell how relived she would be when her deaf friends would come pick her up after classes to head over to the Deaf Club for drinks.
The Flint Association for the Deaf has been around for at least 3 generations. My dad (who is hearing) still talks to me about all the great times that he had there with my family. This isn’t some boring old place. This club has a fully stocked bar, eight or nine televisions that usually have sports on, and the general decor of a sports bar. My grandparents generation would rock this place when they were younger. They even have a jukebox! The feeling of a loving and understanding community is present all throughout the club, but when I visited last weekend I noticed something was missing. My generation was nearly absent. I noticed very few men and women in their 20’s. When I asked some of the older men about it, they told me that younger people are not as interested in the club, and with fewer deaf students going to the Michigan School for the Deaf the creation of a unique deaf community was starting to falter.
I have been thinking about this a lot the past few days, especially when it comes to citizenship within America. What does the deaf population want? Do deaf citizens my age want to become a part of mainstream America, or do they want the tight-knit community that prior deaf generations have created? At my grandfather’s funeral last weekend, none of my grandmother’s friends were in attendance. Instead, they were back at the Deaf Club, preparing an incredible meal for everyone after the funeral. My grandmother has played cards with these women forever (one said 30 years, one said 48 years, one said since high school, which would end up being well over 60 years!). This also brings up thoughts regarding classical liberalism and civic republicanism, specifically as to whether or not individuals or communities are the fundamental units of a society. It might be that while the older crowd would believe that community is essential, the younger generation may think that individualism is key.
I look forward to picking this up next week, where I plan to talk about controversy surrounding the presidency at Gallaudet University, and to really come to a conclusion about whether or not the deaf in America are a part of two completely separate cultures. I certainly think they are. Check this out, they even have their own competition for Miss Deaf America! Well, ’till next time.