I WAS RAISED BY DEAF PARENTS
This is just one of our many True Story interviews, in which we talk to people who have been through interesting/challenging/amazing things. My fantastic friend Lovel (who I visited during Mardi Gras) has been kind enough to tell us about life growing up with two deaf parents. Amazing, no?How did your parents meet?
They were both going to the deaf schools here in Louisiana. My dad was going to the black deaf school and my mom was going to the white one. Yes, there were two deaf schools and yes there was still segregation. Silly, I know. But the year they were in 11th grade, the two schools integrated and that’s how they met each other. My dad was the dope-dealing black football star and my mom was this nerdy pious white girl. They started dating shortly after the schools merged and somewhere late in their senior year they got pregnant with me.
Is there a particularly large deaf population in Lafayette? Why?
I don’t think it’s particularly large, but when both your parents are deaf you tend to know anyone and everyone who’s deaf in this town. Most deaf people here come from generations of deaf relatives intermarrying or marrying hearing cousins – my grandparents were 5th cousins. (Thankfully my mom broke with tradition and married well outside her family allowing me and my brother to be hearing.) Because of this, Lafayette has a strong deaf community with many deaf events and several deaf organizations. Of course, this leads to more people moving to this area and more families having kids who are deaf. It’s a cycle that’s true in a lot of small cities with sizable minority communities.
Did you learn to sign or speak first?Definitely sign, as my mother reminds me all the time. All babies would learn to sign first, as they don’t have the vocal structures conducive to speech. It’s easier for them to express themselves with their hands. They’re not going to be preforming Shakespeare, but they can say “food” or “drink” or “I pooped my pants come clean this!” (Okay that last one’s a stretch it’s mostly the word for “poop”, which is making the “B” sign in the air, and waving it back and forth)
How old were you when you realized that your parents were different?
Kindergarten. Up until I went to school, the only other kids I hung out with were the kids of my parents’ deaf friends. They, like me, were hearing but their parents were deaf so we were exactly alike. But when I got to Maurice Elementary I was the only one in that situation and was quickly besieged with questions about ‘what was wrong’ with my parents. It wasn’t until I got a bit older when I realized just how different my family was and just how hard it was living with deaf parents.
How did having deaf parents effect you and your brother?For one thing, it gave us a unique skill set that looks great on a resume! It’s also made us more tolerant. But for the most part, I’d have to say it forced us to grow up a lot quicker than our peers. Being dragged everywhere your parents went so that you could interpret for them (everything from doctor’s appointments to bankruptcy court) tends to have that effect. I was learning how to spell appendectomy long before I mastered the word house. We were part of very grownup things and witnessed all those painfully boring things adults do behind closed doors that most people never see until they’re in college. It’s definitely prepared me for the paperwork that is involved with adulthood. It’s a blessing and a curse.
How did people in the community react to your family?
They had no problem with the whole deaf thing, they had more of a problem with the whole interracial-relationship thing (small town in Louisiana.) Everyone knew my dad because he worked for the city doing maintenance and water treatment. Being the very congenial guy that he is, he quickly grew on everyone. Granted, most people thought he was dumb because he was deaf. When he quickly passed all the certification and finished all his work before everyone else they stopped being quite so friendly and were a bit more envious.