By Sarah Choate
It was new student orientation at Asbury University, and I was on campus as a student leader, designated to help the new students feel welcome. I walked through the dinnertime rush of Johnson Cafeteria, scouring the room for an empty seat near new students so I could get to know them. Along with another student leader, I took a seat with a sweet looking, slightly shy freshman, Lynnette Cagle, and her parents.
I introduced myself to them; I was surprised to see Lynnette turn to her parents and wave her hands in precise, staccato motions. She was using sign language, and her parents responded with their hands. Lynnette introduced her parents, casually mentioning that they were deaf, she was hearing and that ASL (American Sign Language) was her first language – English was her second.
Growing up as a hearing child of deaf adults (CODA), Lynette experienced a duality of culture.
She found herself to be a bilingual participant of both the Deaf and hearing cultures. These two distinct communities, as well as the community provided by other CODA kids, have shaped many aspects of Lynnette’s life and personality.
Lynnette Cagle is an Asbury University freshman, studying media communication and creative writing. Her family has lived in Danville, Ky., for the last several years, but she is originally from Illinois. Lynnette’s family is a unique one: her parents both have hearing disabilities, but
Lynnette and her three brothers are all hearing. According to an article published in 2003 on lifeprint.com, approximately 90 percent of all children of deaf adults are hearing. In Lynnette’s family, this creates an interesting dichotomy – a merging of the deaf and hearing cultures in her identity.
Lynnette described the deaf community as a minority group. “They’ve made a movement where you have to capitalize the “D” in Deaf because it’s not just an adjective anymore — it’s the name of the group of people,” she explained.
Deaf culture is characterized by extremely personal and intimate friendships. “Deaf people are very extravagant,” said Lynnette. “They love company. They’re not afraid to show their emotions more because that’s part of the language. They’re very close-knit because it is such a small group of people … everybody knows everybody.”
Growing up in this small community influenced Lynnette in many ways. Because of the intense visual nature of the sign language she uses to communicate with her parents, Lynnette has become a very visual learner. “Unless I’m completely focused, I’m a bad listener,” she said.
Through her interactions with other CODA kids at the church she attends and in other parts of the Deaf community, Lynnette has observed that many CODAs respond differently to situations than kids of other backgrounds. She said, “I’ve noticed a lot of CODA kids don’t hide their emotions as much as non-CODAs would.”
Lynnette explained how showing emotion is a very crucial aspect of sign language. If you sign something but leave out the accompanying facial expression to indicate your meaning, then something of your tone is lost, and your meaning is obscured.
While living in the deaf culture at home, Lynnette was also lodged in the hearing culture, where people are often ignorant and insensitive about disabilities. “In school, I would have to deal with some kids making fun of my parents,” said Lynnette. “Most of it is just ignorance. A lot of people assume that because [deaf people] can’t communicate as well with most of the world, it makes them kind of ignorant about life.”
Lynnette admits that growing up a CODA certainly had its struggles. Besides dealing with insensitive peers, she often had to act as an interpreter in social situations for her parents.
Because of this, Lynnette bore the weight of many adult situations and conversations at a young age. “While [interpreting for my parents] was kind of a good thing to help me mature, it was also kind of hard because it’s a lot of responsibility for a kid,” Lynnette said. “I’d have to get involved with adult stuff to help my parents out.”
Despite some of the obstacles that have presented themselves in Lynnette’s life, she has developed strong communication skills in two languages, learned responsibility and found understanding and compassion for people of many different backgrounds. “Being … a part of two cultures … definitely gives you a better understanding and makes you more accepting toward other people,” she said.