Individual Work
To a Hearing Mother

Ella Lentz is a famous Deaf poet, using American Sign Language as her medium. She has been performing her pieces all over the country for decades, and is well recognized by the Deaf community. In this particular poem she discusses the differences between how a Deaf child is raised in a hearing versus Deaf family. She talks about when a deaf child is born to hearing parents, the two communities fight and struggle over which group the child belongs with. In a specific part of this poem she says that without the Deaf community the child will struggle with identity and where they fit in the world. However, without their parents’ love and acceptance, they may not have a strong support system, and will struggle with these things as well. At the end of this poem she says that fighting over the child’s future is not going to solve anything, when instead what the child needs is the support from both the Deaf community and his parents.
The poem itself starts at 1 minute 11 seconds, it is closed captioned for anyone who does not know American Sign Language, so you can follow along. This ASL poem starts off describing how hearing people and Deaf people are raised. Most hearing people aren’t aware of/exposed to the Deaf community, but almost all Deaf people are exposed to in the hearing community. The majority of Deaf children are put in hearing schools, forced to learn to speak, instead of using their natural language.
English poetry and ASL poetry are very different. In English poetry we use words that sound similar to rhyme which is pleasing to the ear. As American Sign Language is a visual language rather than a spoken language, rhyming doesn’t really have the same effect in ASL. Instead what they do is use signs that have a similar handshape or motion to convey a visual kind of rhyme. Lentz does this several times in this poem, first by using the sign for ‘different.’ She uses this to say that the hearing mother, and the Deaf mother are very different. She says it in a couple different ways, but the meaning is there. Then she uses the sign that means ‘same.’ She uses this sign to say that he is the same as the Deaf community, but his mother wants him to be the same as her. In both of these examples she uses the same sign to show the rhyme, but later in the poem she uses a motion to show this. She shows them fighting and struggling over him, and cutting the tree down and the motion of the rocking back and forth, and the tree swaying and then eventually falling. Using motion to show the rhyme is another way of using this method to create a poem in American Sign Language.
I think the deeper meaning behind this poem is that unfortunately this does really happen in real life. 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents, and when these parents don’t know about this language, culture and community, it ends up hurting the Deaf community. You hear about sometimes deaf babies and children going through the surgery to get cochlear implants to “fix” their deafness. This, more than anything hurts the Deaf community, because they are taking someone who could grow into a productive member of society and become part of the Deaf community, and removing them from them out of that world without asking them what they want. A lot of the time when this happens, they don’t end up discovering their natural language and community until later in life.

Author statement: 
My contribution to Maria Shriver's April Poetry Month - a poem originally created in ASL, translated and subtitled in English.