Manako Yabe is a PhD candidate in Disability Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her biographical article, “The Journey of a Deaf Translingual Writer” was published by the Writing on the Edge in the Spring 2018 issue.
My participation in the 2018 Canadian Writing Centres Association Conference (CWCA) was like a putting the pieces of a puzzle together. I am an international Deaf student who has been to writing centers for more than a decade. As a Deaf writer, I was honored to share my story at the CWCA conference. I was also excited to meet writing center professionals and learn about the writing centers in Canada.
When I participated in the conference, the Keynote speaker was Dr. Sheelah McLean—a co-founder of the Idle No More movement. As I listened to Dr. McLean speak, I realized that there were commonalities between Indigenous students and Deaf students.
Historically, many Ingenious students grew up by attending White-centered schools, trying to assimilate into the White-centered culture, speaking standard English, and behaving like White people. The use of Indigenous language was banned by residential schools. In the same way, many Deaf students grew up attending mainstream schools without accommodation, trying to assimilate into hearing culture, speaking orally, and trying to behave like hearing people. The use of sign language was banned at mainstream schools.
When I wrote an essay about Deaf people, I was often asked to affix a lower case ‘d’ to the term “deaf people,” which signified a person’s inability to hear. However, I was asked not to affix a capital letter ‘D’ to the term “Deaf people” although it signified persons who identified with Deaf culture. This was an example of cultural repression because my editors were not familiar with Deaf culture, and the differences between people who are culturally Deaf people and those people who are non-culturally deaf people. This experience is similar to that experienced by Ingenious students who were often asked to fix their Indigenous language to conform to standard English, because of lack of cultural linguistic awareness and hundreds of year of cultural repression and genocide.
In my round-table discussion, I discussed the concept of translingualism. The term translingual originated from Language Difference in Writing: Toward a Translingual Approach (Horner et al, 2011)—which states, in part, “this approach sees difference in language not as a barrier to overcome or as a problem to manage, but as a resource for producing meaning in writing, speaking, reading, and listening” (p. 303). Although many scholars have addressed translingualism for multilingual speakers, little attention has been paid to multilingual signers. Since the translingual approach could be beneficial for indigenous student writers, I argued for the inclusion of “signing” in this definition as well, since because a translingual approach could also apply to Deaf writers.
At end of the conference, my interpreters told me, “You are very lucky to get us, because Saskatoon has only five sign language interpreters. The conference was willing to accommodate your need, but many Deaf professionals often struggled to get interpreters due to budget constraints.” I gasped. I learned that the University of Saskatchewan has many Indigenous students, but no Deaf students. Yet, as a Deaf person, I was honored to present in the department of Indigenous Studies.
On the last day of the conference, I was sitting next to a statue of Lesya Ukrainka, located across from the Department of Indigenous Studies. I felt so fortunate and humbled—like I was putting in another piece of the puzzle as I wrapped up my journey here. But of course, my life journey has not ended, and I have new puzzle pieces in my hands, but what to do with it? “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!” (Seuss, 1990).
Horner, B., Min-Zhan, L., Jones Royster, J., & Trimbur, J. (2011). Language Difference in Writing: Toward a Translingual Approach. Faculty Scholarship, 73(3), 303-321. Retrieved from https://ir.library.louisville.edu/faculty/67