Like many children around the world, my younger self looked at the night sky and aspired to be an astronaut. My father used to point out the Moon and constellations to tell me stories of the figures illustrated in the stars and scientific anecdotes of how humans explored outer space before us. While space may be serene, life on Earth is regularly more tumultuous. Growing up, I witnessed firsthand the discrimination and difficulties that plague our planet and characterize modern society.
I spent my childhood split between two cultures. Growing up in the Hispanic American community exposed me to prejudice and stereotypes from my peers, leaving me fragmented between celebrating my roots and assimilating to my surroundings. Furthermore, my father has been deaf his entire life, which placed a significant amount of responsibility on me from a young age to aid him in navigating the hearing world. These circumstances fundamentally shaped my views of communication, safety, and service.
My father is inspirational and brilliant. He taught me how to have an open and curious mind and is above all an incredible father. But, navigating the deaf and hearing communities as a child caused me to frequently be ostracized in grade school because I had an accent and could not communicate in the same way other kids with hearing parents could. I realized this in 3rd grade, when I confidently pronounced “cookies” as my father did. I was met with immediate laughter from my peers, whom I corrected by assuring them that my dad had taught me the word, but all they said was, “what’s wrong with your dad?” Communication became an insecurity and weakness of mine. I became a timid child who struggled with grammar and phonics and never felt at home.
Despite ignorance and derogatory comments from the outside, I had always felt safe at home, where my father showed me science experiments and told me about his childhood dream to become an astronaut—a dream that reality forced him to give up. I quickly learned, however, that not even home was safe, when one Saturday afternoon my dad was doing yard work when my neighbor’s house alarm happened to go off. The arriving police officers approached my father from behind to ask if he had seen anything, and when he didn’t respond they drew their weapons without hesitation. I was young then and didn’t understand why my mom suddenly ran out yelling that he was deaf, or why the police tackled my dad in our yard, but that memory turned into an abiding fear that one day my dad would get pulled over on the highway for something small and never make it home.
The world is mucky and pitted, but I learned not to listen. When my dad couldn’t read my lips, I created our own kid-friendly sign language, with only the most important words like ‘trains’ and ‘more cookies;’ when my classmates made jokes with the ‘r-word,’ I kindly corrected them and explained how that word hurts others; and when Hispanic or disabled students were ignored and struggled, I endeavored to help them. Most of my weekends in high school were spent volunteering with Camp Twin Lakes, a camp for kids with disabilities, where I eventually did my Eagle Scout Project.I spent my weekdays volunteering with after-school programs for Hispanic kids and teaching English (ESL) at night school.
My father instilled in me, that while sometimes cards are dealt poorly and unequally, education is paramount to overcoming. Students who drop out never get a second chance at education, which is the most powerful tool one has to succeed. This mindset pushes me to personally excel in academics through college, where I am currently studying aerospace engineering and conducting research on satellite mechanics. It’s easy to lose focus and give up on your passions in the face of fear and adversity, but I’ve learned better. While I am able to hear how clamorous the world has become, I—just like my father—still look at the night sky and imagine just how liberating it would feel to explore the deafening silence of space.
Kia Ora. My name is Tiffany Jane Te Maari. I was born in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1987. I was born to two deaf parents. My mother was born deaf and so were her siblings. My grandmother was deaf at birth from a defect during her mother’s pregnancy from Rubella. My grandfather is the person who obtains the hereditary deaf gene that is still producing deaf born family members today.
Due to the strong history of deafness on my maternal side, my mother was fortunate enough to be raised in a deaf world embracing Sign Language in the home and was schooled and boarded at Van Asch Deaf Education Centre in Sumner, Christchurch, New Zealand.
My father was born hearing and contracted meningitis when he was approximately eighteen months old. He was raised in a hearing world with hearing parents. My father is a native of this land here in Aotearoa (New Zealand). Through my father, I am of Māori descent and belong strongly to this culture that we live and breathe here in New Zealand. In the era of my father’s upbringing, his parents unfortunately did not have access to learn Sign Language and my father was severely disconnected from his culture due to this reason alone. Although he also attended Van Asch Deaf Education Centre, his home life was still very much distant to him without the use of Sign Language between his family members in his daily life. In New Zealand we have three official languages; English, Te Reo Māori and New Zealand Sign Language. Currently in New Zealand with the development of New Zealand Sign Language, Deaf Māori are advocating to build and develop their own Māori Sign Language that is separate from that of the Sign Language derived from the standard English we currently use.
The purpose is to develop and create a new Māori Sign Language so that Deaf Māori can learn their own native Sign Language which will assist Deaf Māori with their sense of identity. This sense of identity is extremely important because it allows Deaf Māori to navigate between two different worlds which seems to have been a barrier since the beginning. A barrier that always existed but is only being addressed by the government where only now funding towards the development of this cultural space is finally being recognised. A part of the reason this development has occurred is because my father has been an instrumental advocate for Deaf Māori, pressing for the native group to be recognised as a separate group with their own unique requirements that are needed for them to learn, achieve, succeed and excel in life.
How does this affect me as a Child of a Deaf Adult? I naturally inherited the responsibilities of my parents growing up by default. As a Coda, back in the nineties, especially with the lack of technology and access to information that we have today, I was the interpreter between my parents and other parties and was exposed to handling adult affairs at a very young age. My earliest memory of speaking on the phone on behalf of my parents was when I was approximately four years old. I recall I did not know how to translate what was being said to me by the hearing person because as a four year old their vocabulary was beyond my understanding. By the tone and context of the conversation I would guess or make up roughly what I thought the interpretation was.
Although I was placed in some difficult situations as a child, it has served me well as an adult because my general English, speech, spelling and vocabulary are exceptional and have always been. I see this as symbolic in that what my parents lacked in intellect, due to a loss of a major human sense which was their hearing, I inherited abilities that were beyond anyone I ever met that was my age.
I have had a broad working career where my Sign Language has become useful to both the hearing and deaf communities in any job or role I uphold. At this time in my life I am identifying how I can best channel my skills to help or participate in the development of this new Māori Sign Language that is currently being developed. Being inspired by my father’s parents, who obtained their degrees in Māori Indigineous Studies in their seventies before they passed away, I have decided to commit myself to studying Te Reo Māori to become fluent so I can better support and walk alongside my father in his dedicated life-long mission.
To become fluent in Te Reo Māori would mean that I would be one of the very few persons in New Zealand to be trilingual in all three official languages. It is very rare to find a Māori person who was raised bilingual in New Zealand Sign Language. I intend to become fluent and I hope to join the team managing the development of this new language and further contribute to the greater cause and support the wider deaf community. I believe, from a symbolic spiritual perspective, that where my grandparents could not support my father I am able to bridge an inter-generational sense of healing through my relationship with my father and offer my support as his child. A Child of A Deaf Adults.