|Karolina is the cute one with the braids, smiling.|
Over the last 20 years, I've gained a much bigger appreciation for trying to communicate through language barriers, including autism. I've wanted so much to learn other languages, but this is a skill I'm terrible at, no matter how hard (or how many years) I try. ASL (American Sign Language) is the only language I've ever been able to remember and understand. Probably because it's visual and I think visually. And it's based off the language I already know. Thankfully my family is now learning to sign with me since I have speech challenges. I've always wanted to sign ASL really well. Probably from the first time I saw it on the Sesame Street TV show. During 5th grade, I learned some signs from my teacher and her daughter who was deaf. Back then, they had to sign SEE, (signing exact English) in the classroom. That was tedious. I love ASL, and am glad that is the language allowed now. I took 2 college classes of ASL 20 years ago. It was new to our area then. My husband and I were dating while I took those classes. I practiced my lessons and tests with him as my audience. Now high schools offer it as a language here. I love that. I stopped classes, to address multiple health challenges for me and my little ones. And...now its 20 years later! I'm relearning, reviewing and starting new classes.
I've been reading a lot about deaf history recently. My mother in law was hard of hearing, deaf without her hearing aids. She learned to read lips. She never learned to sign and had no interest when I took classes. Her generation wasn't very friendly to "being different." Understanding what people said was always a challenge for her though. She'd pretend she understood rather than admit she didn't understand the conversation. I can understand that though. I've read it often took 6-8 years of intense training to be able to read lips in one language. In the 1890's to 1900, deaf children had intense immersion type training but they didn't get to live at home, or do "normal things" children their age did. Most farmers didn't send their toddlers away for 6 years. That wasn't normal. The majority of people in the US back then were farmers. Yet these children were expected to act and live like everyone else. Like there was nothing wrong or different. If someone had a bushy mustache, mumbled or looked away a lot, it was hard to follow their conversation. People had to hide their problems for survival. But families wanted to communicate, and often felt signing communicated better, and it was easier with quicker language skills.
Can you imagine a new immigrant and the only way you ever knew how to communicate, you aren't aloud to speak or you get in trouble? Can you imagine the immense pressure of immigrants (early 1900's) to learn English quickly, so people didn't try to cheat them out of the little money they had? Or trick them with work contracts?
Paul Sanetra knew Polish, probably up until age 13 when his mother died. Near the end of Paul's life with Alzheimer's we realized he remembered some German words from when he was a little boy. He said his mother (Rosalie Wandzel) used to say those words to him. But in the early 1900's in America, children got in trouble (and humiliated) for speaking anything but English. By the time Paul spent some time in the orphanage, he lost the language. When he was about age 50 and started to find his siblings, he had to hire a translator, because he forgot and couldn't get the language back. For years (school, orphanage, work) it was drilled into him that he could only speak English.
I lived in Los Angeles for a few years. There were a number of political refugees in my high school. From Kosovo, Iran, El Salvador and Russia. A lot of effort was made to help the teenagers feel welcome and safe. I became good friends with several of these new students. They had some crazy stories! They were really hard working students, who wanted to master several languages, be good students and contribute to their community. If your parents, or grandparents immigrated, do you know their story? Do you know why they moved to a new country? Do you know what they did to adjust to a new place? How they learned a new language? Did they move to communities were others were from the same culture? Or spoke the same language? Do you know how many languages they knew? Did they keep the same religion or join a new religion in their new country? Did they have the same occupation here as their old country? Even if they were factory workers, did they sing or draw? Invent things? Neighborhood sports games at the end of the street? These are the kinds of questions I ask and I'm trying to learn the answers to, for my immigrating ancestors. Regarding my Polish ancestors, ...it's so hard to find these answers! But I'll keep looking and asking.
* Karolina Matuszek was the sister in law of Bronislaw Sanetra. Paul and Bronislaw were bothers.
* A little info about Bell and lip reading: Bell-lip reading click here.
*Info about Gallaudet University and what they do. I just bought a biography about Gallaudet that I look forward to reading. It amazes me how much he helped to address such an enormous problem, and helped improve the quality of living and communication. Gallaudet click here
I feel that American Sign Language is a beautiful language. One that I want to learn really well.