The art of American Sign Language

Taking a step into deaf culture

It was a bright and wonderful afternoon. I was thinking all sorts of things to myself as I walked with my friend Tommy down to the Starbucks on the Portland State University campus.

Things such as, “Who am I going to meet?” or, “Do I know enough sign language to get by?”

I didn't know these answers, and I was pretty nervous. Yeah, I’m still learning ASL, and yeah, I’m just a kid.

But I had never had the opportunity to actually have a prolonged conversation with another deaf person. Now that I think of it, I never actually had interacted with a deaf person outside of a presentation we had at school.

The bottom line was, I was nervous. Very.

However, before I go any further, here’s what started it all.

My ASL teacher at Wilson High School, We’ll just call her Mrs. L, had earlier in the day given my class a slip of paper listing opportunities to meet deaf people and immerse ourselves in deaf culture. It was an extra credit opportunity, and I was willing to do it to get that extra credit. So, that’s how Tommy and I had found ourselves in downtown Portland, just about to walk into something we didn't even know if we were prepared enough for.

Tommy and I walked into the Starbucks, and plopped our stuff down.

“I’ll go get us drinks.” I remember telling him.

I walked up to the counter, and ordered a small hot chocolate, and a small caramel mocha. I also asked this question:

“Is there a group of deaf people that meet here?”

She told me there was, and that they met up in the upper part of the coffee shop. I said thank you, and went to wait for our drinks. Tommy and I made our way up to the upper part of Starbucks, and not to my surprise, there were already two people, signing to each other. Tommy and I didn't really know what to do. we were both pretty shy, but I finally got the courage to go over and Introduce myself.

“Hi, my name is Walker, and this is my friend Tommy. We go to Wilson High school in SW Portland, and are learning ASL.”

They were really friendly about it. I got into a conversation with one of them on how to correctly ask for repeating signs. Turns out, I was doing it wrong all the time. It was a ton of fun talking in a different language to people just like us. I talked to another women who does photography, and she told me about her work, and that was really cool. It was really satisfying to talk with my hands, and be understood.

But then I had to go. My bus only runs 2 times in the afternoon, so I couldn't miss it. So, with reluctance, I left. As I sat down on the bus, I had many thoughts going through my head once again. Just 20 minutes with a deaf community really showed me 3 things.

  1. The deaf really are more alert with some things. They notice everything with their eyes, as us hearing people notice everything with our ears.
  2. It showed me that I want to learn more ASL. More in depth. I want to have more conversations with the deaf, because everyone has a story. Stories are fun to tell, and also fun to listen to. Or in this case, watch.
  3. finally, it showed me that the deaf are very open. Or this group at least. After I told them that Tommy and I were hearing, and that we were learning, they immediately started to help us improve. It was very gratifying.

I guess it’s conclusion time.

Sincerely, I don’t have a “big” conclusion. I want to learn more about deaf culture, and continue learning American Sign Language. However, this is just the beginning.

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