Cultural challenges for Deaf Mexican Americans are apparent when it comes to education. Many deaf and hard of hearing children receive services from public deaf schools at an early age. These services include language and speech therapy, audiology, and sign language education.
In the United States, Deaf schools usually teach only English and American Sign Language. As a result, many Latino American children have little or no access to their family’s native language.
“Many Latino American children have little or no access to their family’s native language.”
According to an article published by the American Society for Deaf Children, 88 percent of hearing parents of Deaf children will never learn sign language. Most American Deaf people are bilingual (ASL and English). As a result, communication with non-signing family members is mostly English-based. However, speech is not always the preferred mode of communication for Deaf people.
This barrier becomes greater when families of Deaf people know neither ASL nor English. Communication is extremely limited. Latino American Deaf people may feel disconnected from their families. To avoid experiencing language deprivation, Deaf Latinos often seek communication outside their family circles. This can leave them distanced from their Latino culture and heritage.
Bregitt Jimenez is the president of the Latino Deaf and Hard of Hearing Association in the Washington D.C. area. Her organization provides education and support to the Latino Deaf Community.
“I’ve met so many Latino students and asked, ‘Can you communicate with your family?’ Across the board, it’s no,” Jimenez said in an article on Fox News Latino.
She agrees that communication between Deaf youth and their families has its share of challenges. These challenges often present themselves when it comes to the children’s education. When parents have limited communication with educators, they miss out on important knowledge about their child’s development. This is especially important for Deaf children. Language education is a crucial part of Deaf schooling that families must continue to practice at home.
Mexican perspectives of deafness are different than those in the United States. In Mexico and many Latin American countries, Deaf people are more commonly called “sordomudos.” This means “Deaf-Mute” or “Deaf and Dumb.” The Deaf community in the United States advocates against the use of these terms. They convey the inaccurate stereotype that Deaf people do not have a voice.
“In Mexico and many Latin American countries, Deaf people are more commonly called ‘sordomudos.'”
Deaf children in Mexico do not always attend special schools for the Deaf taught by Deaf teachers and mentors. Instead, they attend schools for children with communication challenges. Because of this, Mexican deaf schools focus strongly on oralism. Sometimes they discourage the use of LSM (Mexican Sign Language) among students and their families.
Because of the public healthcare system, hearing devices are much more accessible in Mexico than they are in the United States. Purchasing hearing devices is less of a financial burden. As of 2018, any deaf or hard of hearing person in Mexico City can receive free hearing aids by submitting a simple application. These are provided by a program named Escucha CDMX (Hear Mexico City). Cochlear implants are not provided free of charge. But the public healthcare service in Mexico usually covers a large portion of the cost.
In the United States, the experiences of Deaf Mexican Americans are becoming increasingly visible.
Organizations like Deaf Latinos y Familias work with people of all Latino heritages to facilitate closing the gap between these worlds. The non-profit organization offers weekly family ASL classes. They also hold workshops teaching the importance of family connection between parents and their Deaf children. The organization has helped foster a Deaf Latino American culture, so Deaf Latinos no longer feel torn between worlds.
After all, the sharing of traditions and experiences is what creates a culture. Hopefully, this will continue to grow so that more Deaf Mexican Americans and all Deaf Latinos can feel welcome in a culture of their own.
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