Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Minority Experience

This past weekend, we celebrated Purim-one of the most fun and festive times of the year marked by costumes, carnivals, silliness, and rather dubious drinking. And not to also mention the hamantaschen and the satirical latke-hamantaschen debates.

At our house, the making of the hamantaschen was a family affair. Teddy helped by measuring and mixing the ingredients. My husband pitched in by rolling out the cookie dough and cutting out the circles. For the most part, the actual assembly was left up to yours truly.

Since Purim took place the day before Saint Patrick's Day this year and as someone of Irish heritage, I knew a recipe mash-up was in order. That was when Bailey's Irish Cream came into the picture with some delicious results!

Also, even though I never really fully understood the mustache craze, I always felt there is nothing sillier than donning a fake mustache. Perfect for Purim and might as well as start a new trend while I'm at it.

So, I now am introducing you, my dear readers, to the first-ever mustache hamantaschen, or mustachens for short, made with the leftover cookie dough sans the filling.


Why not? It's fun. After all, who said hamantaschen had to be triangles?

For those who are not in the know, Purim is also a time of the year where the Megillah, which presents the central narrative behind the Purim celebrations, is taken out and read. The basic gist of the story was that there was someone who wanted to kill all Jews throughout the entire ancient Persian empire. However, the Jews were saved in the end.

Unfortunately, anti-semitism and attempts at the total extermination of the Jewish peoplehood is certainly nothing new as we have seen time again and again throughout history.

So, Purim is really about embracing and celebrating being Jewish. And a perfectly good excuse to get our party on. After all, we're still here. That is more than a reason enough to celebrate.

There are many rather excellent (and clever, if I may add) Purim spiels, or Purim plays, written. Most Purim spiels are rather comic dramatizations and/or draw parallels in order to illustrate a point.

In fact, we just recently saw a wonderful Purim spiel using Annie as the basis with the familiar curly, red-haired orphan with her dog at her side serving as the stand-ins for Queen Esther and Mordechai, two of the several central characters of the Purim story. It was a huge hit with Teddy!

However, I always found it quite interesting that Queen Esther had to hide her Jewish identity only to disclose at a later time in order to save her people. To me, that spoke of the ultimate minority experience to ensure basic survival.

I also have a broader view of what it really means to eradicate a peoplehood. Such eradication is not limited to only the killing, but also includes the destruction of the culture and stories that makes up the very fabric of a particular group of people.

As a Deaf person, I cannot help but to draw parallels between the central narrative of Purim and what is happening today to the d/Deaf community. After all, the d/Deaf community is certainly changing with the available technology. What would happen if there was no longer deaf people in the world? That all deaf people were 'cured' or 'fixed'?

A few months ago, I came across a short, documentary-style, and quite compelling British film that explores this very question. The film follows four d/Deaf individuals throughout the course of their lives as they decide whether to use cochlear implant(s), and the effects of such decisions on their lives. The film is somewhat futuristic and ends with so-called the last Deaf man left in the world. If you are interested, you can watch the film for yourself here.

Though a gradual cultural shift with cochlear implants gaining broader acceptance within the d/Deaf community where everyone, with the sole exception of one abovementioned Deaf man, opts in to receive at least one cochlear implant, the film shows us how crucial aspects of the Deaf culture is lost along the way.

While the film presents a rather extreme case of a total destruction of Deaf culture by people in the majority, there are various ways that d/Deaf people chose to (or not) assimilate with the majority society.

In a 1986 American film, "Children of Lesser God", Sarah Norman, the central Deaf character who works as a cleaner, meets James Leeds, a new teacher at a school for the deaf and hard of hearing. James attempts to teach Sarah to speak based on the belief that speech ability would serve only to expand her world beyond the school. However, Sarah chooses the path of self-perservation by refusing to learn speech and continued to embrace sign language. Sign language is an integral part of who she is.

Like Sarah, sign language is an integral part of me. After all, I do not have legible speech. Unlike Sarah, however, I work in an environment where I am in the minority.

I have had to appear less "Deaf" in order to get where I am at now. In other words, I had make conscious decisions regarding how I present myself to others. Perhaps even struggled with some of the very same things that Queen Esther struggled with when it came to her Jewish identity.

For example, I regularly consider how my English word choices would be interpreted and understood by my hearing counterparts. That way, I appear less threatening and/or less different to people who may be less familiar with Deaf tendencies.

I also reframe things for them where my Deafness simply means that I use sign language-just another language not that much different from using French for that matter.

It then becomes not a big deal to them. That approach helped to grease some wheels a few times and they get to feel comfortable at the same time. In fact, it hasn't even occurred to some of my hearing colleagues that they are, in fact, hearing until relatively recently.

However, there are certainly times where I simply want to embrace my Deaf identity and tap the table to get their attention. But that would probably just startle them as they are not used to having their attention called that way.

When I was at the residential school for the deaf, we had a sign (HEARING-MIND) to illustrate this phenomenon and which meant that there was a deaf person acting and thinking like a hearing person. The HEARING-MIND label is a derogatory term within Deaf circles because it signaled that you were something less than Deaf-something left more to be desired.

Within Deaf circles, Deafness is something to be embraced and celebrated-just like being Jewish during Purim. Not something in need of fixing, cured, or taken away-or even to be hidden.

However, what it means to be a Deaf person today is constantly being redefined with some Deaf people using speech, hearing aids or even cochlear implant(s), and listening to music.

I am then reminded by George Veditz's words, "As long as we have deaf people on earth, we will have signs."

That could not be even more true.

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