Brief Moments of Solidarity between ESL & ASL

This is an Authors@Google talk with Marlee Matlin from March 30, 2010. According to the Youtube video description:

“Marlee Matlin, Academy Award winning actress, author and celebrity spokesperson for captioning on the web, talks about her autobiography, “I’ll Scream Later,” accessibility issues facing the deaf and hard of hearing, and an exclusive sneak preview screening of a new pilot reality show coming to YouTube.”

I think the most interesting part of this talk for me was during the Q/A session, at around 30:30, a man with a five-year-old blind son asks in retrospect what Marlee Matlin would have wanted to tell her parents when she was five years old.

There are two interesting moments during his interaction with her:

  1. First, after asking his question, he mentions that English is his second language and she responds by saying, “Me too”. To me, this is an attempt at building solidarity with each other and making it apparent that even though his situation is different than her’s, they can still find similarities to relate to each other with.
  2. Second, after Marlee gives her answer to his question, the man mentions that he finds captions helpful too for him understand English. It seems like he said this because she noticed him glancing over at the captions screen as the interpreter was interpreting her signs into spoken English. A major part of Marlee’s talk is about how much captions have helped Deaf people gain access to information, and she applauded Google’s efforts for their captioning technology on Youtube videos. To me, it seems like when he noticed that she noticed him looking at the captions, he sought to return that sense of solidarity by letting her know that he too has difficulties understanding English and that he also finds captions helpful.

I’ve thought about why I’m so interesting in Deaf culture and American Sign Language and I think one major reason is learning about the similar kinds of struggles/experiences/fights both communities have, along with other communities of identity, such as women, LGBT, people of color, non-native speakers of English, etc. I think that moment of understanding the similarities between each other’s experiences/struggles (though of course, very different kinds of experiencecs/struggles). I think by understanding that our communities have many similar struggles and experiences, it really helps bridge our communities together and also helps us understand our own struggles and experiences that we go through. In this video in particular, it seems like just in those brief exchanges, Marlee and the audience member were both able to show empathy and a sense of understanding towards each other’s experiences.

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