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Category Archives: Deaf Culture Values

Can Writing About Food Spread Understanding of Deaf Culture?

Anna: These days, everyone is obsessed with food, posting photos of practically every meal they eat, cook or fantasize about on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Besides being an interpreter, I am a freelance writer and focus my magazine articles on the intersection of food and culture in order to increase Americans’ sensitivity to people from various cultures. I trust that the subject of food is so fascinating that while readers learn about “exotic” dishes from around the world, they may unconsciously absorb some cultural knowledge as well.

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Culinary Arts instructor, Vernon McNece, shares a moment with his students in the F.E.A.S.T. program at the California School for the Deaf – Fremont (photo: Nick Wolf)

But could this strategy work to sensitize Americans to the elements of Deaf culture as well? I think it definitely can. Although Tom and I have written books and produced videos to educate people about the features of Deaf culture, our consumers are usually ASL students or interpreters and not members of the wider public. So whenever I have the chance to write a food article and give some exposure to a Deaf chef or restaurant owner, I consciously include some relevant details that I hope will reveal aspects of Deaf culture to the general public. My initial chance to do so was when I  profiled my friend Betty Ann Prinz, the first self-identified “foodie” in our local Deaf Community. Besides teaching ASL, she cooked, catered, taught wine classes and became a trusted authority whom other Deaf people could go to with food-related questions. After recounting her life journey for my article, Betty Ann added some tips about which are the best seats for Deaf restaurant patrons (depending on the shape of the table, lighting and a non-distracting location). I am sure many hearing readers never considered this before.

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Melody and Russell Stein, owners of Mozzeria in 2011, during their construction phase (notice paint on Russ’ hands)  before their opening night. (photo:Anna Mindess)

The biggest challenge came when I interviewed the owners of the now acclaimed Deaf-owned San Francisco restaurant Mozzeria, Russ and Melody Stein. My meeting with them occurred a couple of weeks before opening night and Melody informed me that she definitely did not want me to give away any secrets about their up-coming menu (like their signature Hoisin duck pizza). So what could I write about for a food-focused website if not the food? The day I visited their not-yet opened Italian restaurant in a historic 1908 building, there was a lot of preparation going on: hammering, sawing, drilling.  Speaking with the Steins, I learned that they had hired Deaf wood refinishers to bring out the warm luster in the old floor, a Deaf electrician who was Melody’s classmate at CSD and a Deaf woodworker to design and make their door, tables, shelves, seating and marble-topped counter. So I mentioned: “As is the custom in collectivist Deaf Culture, the Steins looked first for Deaf artisans and laborers to fill their needs.”

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Deaf food fans on Edible Excursions’ ASL tour of the Berkeley Gourmet Ghetto get a lesson in local butchery. (Longtime foodie Betty Ann Prinz is in the center) (photo: Ken Arcia)

In another article, I wrote about a local food tour in ASL for the many Deaf Bay Area food lovers who aren’t chefs themselves, just regular people (software developers, college professors, actors and retired folk)  who are obsessed with trying out new places and learning about the food history of Berkeley’s “Gourmet Ghetto.” As the tour leader, I knew I would be breaking a rule of politeness in Deaf culture. Due to our tightly planned schedule tasting tidbits at nine places in three hours,  I was going to have to rush the group from one spot to another. In Deaf Culture, I wrote, (despite the advances of email, video phones and texting), face-to-face communication in expressive ASL often has top priority and thus it is considered rude to interrupt signed conversations.

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Students Maribel Vargas and Milana Boren work on their entry for the Deaf Culinary Bowl, while Vernon McNece enumerates the tasks left to do in their timed practice. (photo: Nick Wolf)

My most recent article to pair food and Deaf culture came about when a mutual friend, –who knew we were both food-obsessed —  introduced me to Vernon McNece. Vernon had just moved back to California to become an instructor in the F.E.A.S.T. (Food Education and Service Training) program at the California School for the Deaf – Fremont.  It just happened that the day I visited Vernon’s classroom with a photographer, he and his students were preparing for the 8th Annual Deaf Culinary Bowl. That subject gave me a chance to describe the long tradition of diverse competitions in the Deaf community, such as the National Deaf Academic Bowl, the Deaflympics and even school football games and neighborhood bowling leagues.

Vernon also shared his story of working in a Food Lab, but as the only Deaf employee.  It was a frustrating experience for him, because although he had exceptional talent in creating formulas in record time, his hearing co-workers couldn’t even tell him how well he was doing.  When I turned in my article to the editor of Edible East Bay magazine, she expressed her appreciation of learning so many new facts about Deaf culture and her certainty that her readers would be equally enlightened.

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Vernon McNece explains to Maribel Vargas how to plate her salad to impress the judges. (photo: Nick Wolf)

Here is the full article about culinary instructor, Vernon McNece:

http://edibleeastbay.com/online-magazine/fall-harvest-2017/deaf-chefs-compete/

So if any of you are experts in something, pick your topic: be it sports, dance, art, cars, business and find a Deaf angle to write about. You may be doing a service by educating a new community of readers.

Nyle DiMarco Embodies Deaf Cultural Values

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The Deaf community has gone wild about Nyle DiMarco. Not only because of his stunning dance routines on Dancing with the Stars or his winning the competition as America’s Next Top Model last February.   And not even because of his handsome looks or perfect physique. Rather, it is the ways in which he projects a positive and inspiring image of the Deaf community, demonstrating what Deaf people are capable of, regardless of their speaking or listening abilities.

12106741_1681736582063046_5381670987293833556_nVisit his website to learn more about Nyle, the collectivist nature of the Deaf community, the richness of a signing family, and some of his passions, including spreading the word about talented Deaf performers (#DeafTalent), the importance of Deaf owned companies and Nyle’s current priority: Deaf children and their families.

Strikingly, instead of just basking in his own success, Nyle has vowed to use his unique opportunities to bring attention to critical issues affecting Deaf people. In this way, he exemplifies the Deaf cultural value of giving back to the community. He is fully cognizant of the fact that most deaf children do not have the same privileges he had to become a bi-lingual individual with a healthy sense of self as a Deaf person. Because of this, he is capitalizing on his fame to support the work of the Deaf community, such as the Language Equality and Acquisition for Deaf Kids (Lead-K), the National Association of the Deaf, and Gallaudet University, with the goal of helping parents of deaf children understand the value of raising a deaf child who is bi-lingual in ASL and English, as opposed to trying to restrict the child to an English-only environment at home and school.

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To further his goal of making the world a better place for all Deaf people and their families, Nyle has established The Nyle DiMarco Foundation, whose website states “Nyle and the Foundation are guided by the principle that every child deserves love and language ” and adds that “the key to unlocking a Deaf child’s future is acquiring language at an early age.”

The Foundation’s aims include improving “access to accurate, research-based information about early language acquisition–specifically, the bilingual education approach. Through the early intervention process, the child’s language and literacy development should be the focal point.”

Check out this website to learn more about his work. This is what Deaf Culture is all about. No wonder the Deaf community is wild about Nyle!

 

 

FREE Resource for ASL, Deaf Culture and Interpreting Instructors

FREE Resource for ASL, Deaf Culture and Interpreting Instructors
RBS Workbook now available Free

RBS Workbook now available Free

Anna:
In conjunction with the October release of a new 3rd edition of my book Reading Between the Signs, the  publisher and I decided to make available as a FREE Ebook, the companion Workbook which was published several years ago.

The Workbook contains 22 exercises that help readers develop an intercultural perspective, undertake cultural self-examination and illuminate major contrasts between American Deaf and hearing cultures. Activities may be done either alone or in small groups. It complements all 3 editions of the book. Here is the link to download the whole book:

http://www.nicholasbrealey.com/Reading%20Between%20the%20Signs%20Workbook.pdf

Or you may get a FREE Kindle Version from Amazon 

Here is a sample exercise called: YOUR POLITE IS DIFFERENT FROM MY POLITE

Directions: Read the statements below and decide if they describe an attitude more often found in mainstream American (hearing) culture or in American Deaf culture. Put an H (for hearing) or a D (for Deaf ) in the spaces provided.

______ 1. Sharing personal information benefits us all.

______ 2. The “grapevine” shows people care about each other.

______ 3. Name-dropping is pretentious.

______ 4. Graphic descriptions of bodily functions and surgical procedures often make people uncomfortable.

______ 5. Describing your ties to well-known community members can demonstrate your trustworthiness.

______ 6. Stories regarding your own and others’ illnesses and medical treatments are important to share.

______ 7. Passing along the latest news about mutual friends is considered “talking behind their backs.”

______ 8. Softening a critical comment often makes it easier for the other person to accept.

______ 9. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

_____ 10. Some topics (such as money and bathroom habits) are off-limits in polite society.

_____ 11. You owe it to your friends to inform them if a new hairstyle is unbecoming.

_____ 12. If you have a criticism, tell it straight.

Draw lines between pairs of sentences above that express opposite messages.You should end up with six pairs.

Remember that these are generalizations of tendencies within each group.Individual members of either group may subscribe to the attitude expressed by a particular statement to a greater or lesser degree. (Suggested answers to this exercise appear in book on page 120.)


Please share this free resource with any ASL, Deaf Culture or Interpreting instructors that you know. Thanks!!

Reporting Bathroom Behavior – Is that really “Deaf Culture”?

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Tom:

These days on YouTube, you can find many attempts to explain differences between Deaf culture and hearing culture.  One good example is the work of  a CODA named Will (CODA8810).  He provides several episodes, which although exaggerated, illustrate how Deaf people can behave very differently from hearing people. One of his scenes depicts graphically the openness and the etiquette related to information sharing regarding what goes on in the bathroom. This kind of openness has long been the subject of debates among Deaf people as to the appropriateness of such disclosures.  You need to watch Will’s 3 short scenes on YouTube: to see for yourself. So, does this truly fit the definition of Deaf Culture?

As discussed in the book Introduction to American Deaf Culture, cultural behaviors can be categorized into three categories – explicit, implicit, and emblematic.  Some behaviors are explicitly regulated through laws or policies.  For example, the government determines the legal age for getting a driver’s license or drinking alcohol beverages.  The legal age for these actions varies from culture to culture.  Other behaviors are implicitly understood.  Rather than being regulated by laws or policies, they are generally accepted and practiced by the community members.  For example, tipping rules also vary from culture to culture.  Here in American restaurants, a tip of 15% to 20% of the bill is expected, but not mandated by law.  The final category is where behaviors are emblematic of the culture but not necessarily practiced by most members of the community.  For example, foul language is often used in American movies, giving an impression to people throughout the world that such behavior is typical of Americans.  While most Americans may not themselves swear as much as certain characters in movies, foul language has become emblematic of American culture.

In the case of Deaf culture, etiquette associated with information sharing about bathroom behavior or personal ailments has been long debated among Deaf people.  Letting others know where you are going when you leave the room is expected of Deaf people, even if the bathroom is your destination.  Adding a vivid description of what transpired in the bathroom is not.  Yet, it is not that unusual to be at the receiving end of a detailed description of a difficult bowel movement or colorful vomit.  This openness can be considered emblematic of Deaf culture…that is it is not customary or expected of Deaf people to be graphic, yet such descriptions are not that unusual within the Deaf community.  CODA Will makes  this point in his another YouTube presentation —  What do you think?

Cultural Detective Highlights Deaf Culture

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Anna:

Cultural Detective: Deaf Culture Value Lens

Cultural Detective: Deaf Culture Value Lens

Tom and I are proud to be among the distinguished authors in the Cultural Detective series, which provides online tools to develop intercultural sensitivity and includes over 50 culture-specific packages from Argentina to New Zealand. In Cultural Detective: Deaf Culture, a “Value Lens” illustrates the values important in Deaf Culture, including Collaboration, Shared Information, Straight Talk and Group Orientation. Then through several critical incident stories we see how a clash of value can lead to misunderstandings. Strategies for bridging these gaps are taught.

A recent post on Cultural Detective’s blog highlighted issues in Deaf Culture in the wake of the controversy about ASL interpreter Lydia Callis. Read the blog post here. What do you think about the post-Hurricane Sandy comedy shows poking fun at the expressive interpretation of Ms. Callis?