I come from an unconventional Japanese-American family. My brother and I were born profoundly deaf in a hearing family. The Japanese culture embraces conformity to a certain degree and there is a lot of stigma and denial when it comes to being different in any way. Rather than considering deafness as a humiliation to the family, my parents saw it as a challenging and unexpected blessing.
Due to the stigma associated with having a disability, I have noticed most Asian parents of Deaf family members do not sign in public or even learn to sign. Fortunately, my parents attended sign language workshops and openly signed to me regardless of the stares or questions. They also sent my brother and me to a day school for Deaf and Hard of Hearing children, then we were mainstreamed throughout high school.
At one of my brother’s school events, there was a tap dance performance. Less than a year old and barely able to stand, I was intrigued by the movements and beats of the music, trying to hop and bounce along with the dancer and leaning on a stranger next to me for balance. My parents then enrolled me in dance classes as I started school. The teachers at our local studio were incredibly supportive and eager to accommodate me in classes, picking up some signs as visual cues. I ended up falling in love with dance and continued for over 15 years, joining competitive and performing teams along the way.
However, being the only Deaf dancer on teams, I have encountered quite a few frustrations. The most recurring one was struggling to hear when the music would start playing. From there it was like a domino effect; I would fall behind on counts, have to look around me to check if I was in sync with everyone else, and sometimes jump to the wrong parts of the choreography. Knowing that I was a constant distraction to the audience, I began to feel discouraged.
My parents told me quitting solely for that reason was not an option. After some self-reflection, I realized I enjoyed performing so much that dropping dance and leaving would be near impossible. I voiced my concerns to my coach and teammates, and we worked through discreet cues and best placements for me at the beginning of performances. My confidence skyrocketed both on and off stage, and I was able to shine with some mini solos towards the end of my dance era.
Before entering college, I “retired” from dancing, wanting to end with a bang. I have since graduated, and looking back, I am forever grateful for my parents’ support and encouragement all these years. They taught me at a young age to embrace being Deaf, not perceiving it as an obstacle, but a gate to many opportunities. They also taught me how to respectfully self-advocate. I have been able to face and overcome barriers in life, and I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for them!