I Attended a Deaf Chat Coffee and This is What It's Like
By Vanessa Palencia
I took an ASL course last year and made a friend recently who had attended a Deaf Chat coffee meeting once and encouraged me to attend one as well. She gave me all the information I needed: the group meets every third friday of the month at 8 PM at Starbucks.
When that Friday arrived, I stood in front of my mirror contemplating why I was going. It wasn’t mandatory, and I hardly remember everything I learned in the ASL course, which was reason enough for me to stay behind, because who wants to embarrass themselves in front of other people? After motivating myself with a pep talk,, I finished getting ready and entered the local Starbucks around 8:15 PM.
I was expecting the cafe to be half empty because it was St. Patrick’s Day, but it was still as lively as ever. In fact, it was probably more bustling than I had ever seen it. I saw small crowds of people dispersed throughout the shop moving their hands furiously in a fluid motion. I suddenly became very nervous because even though I had taken a course in ASL before, I knew I was rusty since I had not been practicing everyday.
What if I forget how to sign something and freeze?
What if I end up signing something completely different and offend somebody?
My skin started prickling and I felt my face getting hot, so I had to run to the line and grab an iced coffee to help cool me down and calm my nerves.
Once my friend walked in, I felt a little more comfortable approaching people and “talking” to them in sign. It was an odd feeling having a conversation with somebody using your hands and your facial expressions, but the experience I got from interacting with the deaf community was immeasurable.
You see, as I took a break and looked around the room, I saw other people, students, businesspeople, old folks sitting at various tables so zoned into their computer and/or phone that they seemed to be in an entirely different world of their own. These ‘hearing’ people, as the deaf community likes to call them, had the ability to speak to each other, yet they weren’t conversing with the people around them. Instead, those who were deaf or who were associated with the deaf culture were the loudest of them all as they were ‘talking’ away with their hands.
However, what was startling to me was that while some people might consider the deaf impaired or ‘broken’ because they cannot hear, the deaf community didn’t let the lack of one of five senses stop them from living life. The coffee shop may have been a little too quiet for the amount of people inside, but the energy was very much alive. Everyone who was there to converse in sign was smiling and laughing. First-timers (like me) were accepted into their circle with loving arms. Meanwhile, those in the hearing world looked grim as they typed away at their computers and tensed up the moment someone from the deaf community sat next to them. I know it’s natural for people to feel weird around other people who don’t speak their language, but their body language and their furtive glances gave away their belief that the deaf belonged to an alienated world.
I grew up with the best of both worlds in the sense that while I am deaf in one ear, the little hearing I had in my other ear allowed me to converse with those in the hearing world. I grew up believing that to hear was better, but after witnessing the stark differences in the way that the deaf and the hearing approach life, I regained a sense of pride to be a part of such a wonderful community. And even if you aren’t deaf or hard of hearing, being able to associate yourself with the people of the deaf community is an experience you don’t want to miss out on because they’re very communal people. They really give you a sense of what it means to laugh and feel included. I really enjoyed my experience there and look forward to returning next month, and I really encourage others to attend a session, if you can.