Silent Voices


It is 6:52 on an ordinary morning when I slide into my usual seat, slip on headphones, pull up Pandora, and let the application’s algorithms choose a variety of music for me to escape into. The melody urges me to move, but I dare not disturb the person sitting next to me who has hit their internal snooze button until the bus grinds to a jerking halt at school. Instead, I close my eyes and let the music wash over me. Picturing the words, I start to mold my fingers and sing with my hands. Learning American Sign Language (ASL) is challenging, but it has evolved from a hobby into a personal passion. An early intrigue in middle school inspired me to learn the alphabet, then numbers and oft-used phrases. Watching the television series, Switched At Birth, was the first time I truly related to this form of expression. I was mesmerized as I saw deaf and hearing characters able to successfully communicate and I felt an instant yearning to learn this foreign language. I spent countless hours watching online videos, learning from applications, and honing my fluency. Since then, I have become proficient in conversing only with my hands, facial expressions, and body language. It was my little secret, one practiced in front of the mirror and behind the privacy of my bedroom door, until a vacation when I met a young boy named Alex.

I noticed Alex playing with other children, but only by seeing him sign to try to be understood, did I ascertain that he was deaf. I was the only person in the room who could understand him, and I could not help but smile upon seeing his eyes light up when I began dancing with my hands and returning his signs. The sounds around me faded into the background as I became enrapt in this duet Alex and I were performing. We took turns twirling and folding our hands into predefined shapes, and the tempo of our dance adjusted to the beat of our conversation. I returned home embracing this language and thirsty for more.

My desire was fulfilled in September 2015 when the Deaf West Theatre Company created an ensemble of hearing and deaf performers to carry out a revival of Spring Awakening on Broadway. Sitting on the edge of my seat, I attempted not to blink to keep from missing any words signed by the actors. It was here in the theatre that sign language, as a dance, came to life and I was struck by an epiphany: this dance is more moving when practiced with partners. I had initially delayed this aspect of learning sign language because I was nervous to test my self-taught skill on a person who inherently spoke the language. However, embracing this form of communication has allowed me to break away from the comfort zone of practicing in the privacy of my bedroom and fostered my capability to reach people who have remarkable abilities, yet silent voices.

My eagerness to connect with those who cannot speak or hear led me to the most recent step in my ASL education, enlisting a remarkable deaf instructor. Through his teachings, I have been exposed to the culture, history, and unique characteristics of ASL and with each lesson, I have greater understanding that communication is a basic principle of life that can manifest in different forms. I have always considered myself to have a scientific and mathematical mind, numbers and facts my chosen forms of understanding the world. However, by learning to speak expressively with my hands and hear with my eyes, I have given myself a chance to redefine how I am educated. While I was apprehensive to reveal this private passion I had cultivated over years, ultimately it was the catalyst that allowed my true self to speak out, even if it was done in complete silence..