If you wish to learn why I am so interested in all things ASL, I would refer you to my earlier blog post - How ASL Changed my Life. I guess today’s post could be called Part 2 of my relationship with ASL, a language which I am trying my darnedest to learn.
Train Go Sorry is an ASL idiom which roughly means - “You Missed the boat,” and recognizes the struggles that the deaf community has had in maintaining their culture and thriving in a largely hearing world.
Even though Train Go Sorry is more than twenty years old, it is a classic on deaf culture, and all of the deaf tutors and teachers and interpreters I know, recommend it and have it on their shelves.
This beautifully written book which is part memoir, part history, part story and part call-to-arms, drew me in right from the start. The author who can hear, grew up in the Lexington School for the Deaf in NYC. Her grandfather was deaf, Her childhood friends were deaf, and her father was the school’s superintendent.
Here’s the way the book begins:
That our family’s home was a school for the deaf did not seem in any way extraordinary to Reba, Andy and me. Lexington School for the Deaf was simply where we came from. Our apartment was on the third floor of the southern wing of the building, above the nursery school and adjacent to the boys’ dormitory. The walls and doors, incidental separations between our living space and the rest of the building, were routinely disregarded. We children often played down the hall with the kids from the dorm. It wasn’t until Reba, my older sister, proved at age six to be a sleepwalker—discovered one night riding the elevator in her pajamas‚ that our parents even thought to install a proper lock on the front door.
Twenty years ago, when this book was released, the deaf community was on the cusp of change. Up until then, being deaf was considered being “hearing impaired,” a label the deaf community fought against. (And still fight against.) Their teachers were all hearing, and routinely taught English and lip reading, and made the children speak and use their voices. Sometimes signing was even forbidden and Cohen recounts that in those early days, children who signed had their hands struck with rulers, or tied behind their backs.
In her beautiful book, Cohen recounts the personal stories of deaf students one at a time, one per chapter. I fell in love with the students she wrote about. I met James and Sofia and Oscar. I read about meetings where the students demanded that at least one person on the school's board be deaf. I read about the time they set up the chairs so that they all could see the interpreter. The staff, all hearing, had not even thought of that. There was so much that I learned.
To give you a bit more of an understanding of the time, this is from Wikipedia:
In 1994, Lexington School for the deaf was subject to a community protest following the appointment of a hearing chairman of the board without what protesters felt was adequate representation of the deaf community in the selection process. Following picket lines and other protest measures, Phil Bravin was placed in the position; Bravin had become the first deaf chair of the Gallaudet University Board following a similar protest in 1988.
If you are interested in this piece of our history, I highly recommend Train Go Sorry.
Next Time: Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue