A Hearing Son and His Deaf Family Story
I definitely enjoy books that talk about personal struggles and triumphs; a perfect example: Signing in Puerto Rican a book that truly immerses you into the life of an immigrant growing up amongst several cultures, the Hispanic culture and a family of Deaf Latinos chasing the American dream.
One of the most interesting parts of this book is where the author tells about his struggle with identity. A common occurrence for many Hispanics who either come to the U.S. after being born in a Hispanic country or grow up being second generation surrounded by lots of Hispanic culture.
When we asked Dr. Andres Torres how he keeps Hispanic culture alive he told us: “For me, my culture is inseparable from my work: whether political, professional or volunteer. Yes, I love salsa music, am proud of my Puerto Rican/Latino heritage and have taught my two children to be aware of their roots.
But my Hispanic identity would not be what it is if I hadn’t spent most of my working life somehow connected to Hispanic issues and concerns. It has to be more than just celebrating important holidays and eating rice and beans, and “looking” Boricua, whatever that is.
For me it means being involved in social change, providing mentorship and creating knowledge. That’s why I decided to pursue a career in public higher education, and why I do research and write about Puerto Rican/Latino issues, and try to link this to other groups and communities facing similar challenges.”
Dr. Torres’ point of view about bicultural families, specifically Hispanic-Americans, who want to hold on to their Hispanic roots is: “It’s hard work to manage the two worlds (learning our history, keeping the Spanish language alive, etc.) but in the long-run, it’s really worth it; your children will become strong individuals with a secure foundation. They will be prepared for the global society of the 21st Century.”
He also warns about two caveats: “first, not everything about our culture is wonderful. We should also instill a critical perspective about the negative aspects, which for me are behaviors and attitudes such as racism, homophobia and sexism; second, if pride in our heritage is the be-all and end-all of our experience — blinding us to the beauty in other cultures — then we’ve become narrow-minded, ethnic-centric individuals. Pride in our culture should be a doorway to the wisdom and splendor of the whole human race, not a prison cell that cuts us off from the rest of the world.”
The only child of deaf Puerto Rican migrants, Dr. Andrés Torres grew up in New York City in a large, extended family that included several deaf aunts and uncles.
In Signing in Puerto Rican: A Hearing Son and His Deaf Family, he opens a window into the little known culture of Deaf Latinos chasing the American dream. Like many children of deaf adults (codas), Dr. Torres loved his parents deeply but also longed to be free from being their interpreter to the hearing world.
Dr. Torres’s story is unique in that his family communicated in three languages. The gatherings of his family reverberated with “deaf talk,” in sign, Spanish, and English. What might have struck outsiders as a strange chaos of gestures and mixed spoken languages was just normal for his family.
The author describes his early life as one of conflicting influences in his search for identity. His parents’ deep involvement in the Puerto Rican Society for the Catholic Deaf led him to study for the priesthood. He later left the seminary as his own ambitions took hold.
Dr. Torres became very active in the Puerto Rico independence movement against the backdrop of the Civil Rights struggle and protest against the Vietnam War. Throughout these defining events, his journey never took him too far from his Deaf Puerto Rican family roots and the passion of arms, hands, and fingers filling the air with simultaneous translation and understanding.
Dr. Andrés Torres is Researcher at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, New York, NY.
Signing In Puerto Rican: A Deaf Son and His Hearing Family is published by Gallaudet University Press.
Picture at the top by Francisco Reyes III