1988 was one of the most remarkable years of the 20th century for Deaf community. All across the world, Deaf people were signing in American Sign Language (ASL), filled the streets and took up arms to arms in a way to win their freedom.
Why was it special that year? Deaf President Now (DPN). I was 14 years old, struggling my journey as the state of being Deaf in Eighth grade at a hearing school, getting in fistfights with people who were bullying me and made fun of my condition as Deaf. It was awful that year. I even got kicked out of school three days before school ends for the summer. Hearing people made nasty comments on my yearbook.
I had no idea about Gallaudet University or DPN at all. No news. Deaf program at Wy’East Junior High never talked anything about DPN. They thought it was not important to discuss about it and made sure I do not belong to Deaf community. The hearing world I was forced to live in, my hearing teacher who ran Deaf program even interpreters had campaigned against DPN by promising a pack of lies to fool Deaf students including myself in the classroom. Hearing teachers are sound-oriented. I was not. That is why I did not bond very well with any of them. Interpreters betrayed me at times, too!
It was all about blunt political agenda. I did not know anything about DPN until at least 19 or 20 years old and did not really become interested to understand why it was important to know about DPN. I had no motivation. I wonder why. Finally, around in my 30s, I grabbed a book called Deaf President Now!: The 1988 Revolution at Gallaudet University by John B. Christiansen and Sharon N. Barnartt and realized it was a game-changer. My views about Gallaudet University have changed.
Then I purchased a book; The Week the World Heard Gallaudet authored by Jack Gannon and found some interesting pictures including my mentor, Carl Schroeder who gave an important speech for students that evening. It is like a game, Jenga in which players attempt to remove blocks from a tall tower without causing the tower to collapse.
To me, DPN was very much like that tower. Is that not a game-changer?
In 2012, I got to meet one of the leaders for DPN and had good talk about how much Carl influenced the leader. 25 years later after the DPN, I grabbed the golden opportunity to attend DPN 25th Anniversary at Gallaudet University where I attended most of the events: From Civil Rights to Human Rights, DPN Student Leaders, Comparative Civil Rights Panel, History of Women at Gallaudet and DPN, and Our Time: The Legacy of the 20th Century.
I was blown away. At the same time, I was saddened not to know anything about it or why I was not part of Deaf community that time. It was the same year that really made my life harder. Five months after DPN, I got invited to attend a camp called Camp Taloali located in Stayton, Oregon, about an hour drive from Portland —my very first Deaf camp and last as well, too. It was supposed to be filled with fun, excitement, adventure, challenge, friendship, memories and much more than has been stated in camp’s goals. It was supposed to be my Deafhood journey. It was supposed to empower my own Deaf identity. It was supposed to be a Deaf-centric camp as far as I can remember. I could be wrong.
Camp Taloali is now Youth Leadership Camp (YLC) today.
It has ended up with worst guidance on my journey forever. I remember traveling down in my father’s car going on a road trip for Camp Taloali from a small town in Washington State. The length of the distance was no more than one hour and 45 minutes, maybe two hours unless stop at mini stores for refreshments. The adventure has begun. There was a tall man with gray hair sporting mustache with a hat and he was a fast signer. I never had seen that fast before, especially from a Deaf man. The tall man was a camp director welcoming me to the camp with a warm hospitality.
Then the camp director had assigned me to a cabin to sleep for next two weeks. I was walking down to the cabin and got greeted with the camp counselor that became a bully. For the next couple of days, it has become my dark adventure wondering why my camp counselor was a mean-spirited attacking, belittling, and condescending in every sense of word. I apologize for forgetting his name, but I do remember the look.
I realized that I was bullied severely because I was mainstreamed. One day, there was a horseback riding lesson for the campers, learning how to ride and appreciate horses for their powerful shift in camper’s sense of normalcy. The lessons were done for the day, my fellow campers (they were all from Deaf schools) instructed me to stand back of the horse where a camper snapped the horse causing to kick into my stomach. The campers actually laughed for their ego-bruising task. My own camp counselor even laughed and supported them. I was in shock. It could have killed me right there on the spot. It had actually happened.
My camp counselor was drinking on duty even sporting a bottle of whiskey in the cabin where I slept. I could not understand. I tried to explain to the camp director but laughed at me and told me to get lost. I protested and got punished and made me to sit in the corner during lunchtime front of all the campers, camp counselors, and the camp director. I remember the feeling of being humiliated more than anything.
The worst part is that few hours later, I got out of a swimming pool and took shower, then realized that my basic necessities were missing: a towel and my underwear. There was nothing else to cover it up then saw my underwear was on the flagpole and became upset about it and decided to climb all the way to get my underwear back.
There were several campers including the staff that actually laughed. I was in shock. My two weeks stay was cut to one week instead and called my cousin to come and pick me up. I became a camp villain. Remember the fun, excitement, adventure, challenge, friendship, and memories theme? Not anymore. My father never got a full refund for my two weeks’ leisure. I tried to explain to my father, but he does not understand ASL and put the blame on me, so it was time for me to write a story–about time, really.
The best part of my camp experience: Getting second place for “wood” Olympics.
1988 was my unknown journey. If the DPN has made all the difference five months before I attended the camp, I thought 1988 was supposed to be a remarkable year of the 20th century for Deaf community to stage for all the freedom and pursuit of happiness that should not allow bullying at a campsite. Policing me around. Think about many mainstreamed children being manipulated in schools, too.
That was my story. My story will become their story, which is the point. It is my quest of Deafhood. Yes, Deafhood transforming my life. I was shocked that I never knew about YLC, Jr NAD, and others–today the leaders who was already part of YLC and Jr NAD in 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, they are lucky.
I learned that even moving 3,000 miles away from Pacific Northwest, the former camp director is living only one hour away from me. I have not seen the camp director since 1988 and would like to tell the director one day,
Thank you for humiliating me all these years“.
That was my 1988. At the same time, it made my life stronger. It is a story worth written and examined.
Copyright @ 2017 Jason Tozier
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