A black woman has long black dreadlocks. She wears a small black fedora, a navy blue collared shirt and a bright patterned tie.
TEXT: Rezenet Moges-Riedel – The Role of Interpreters.
A thick green rectangle border frames Rezenet and the NDC logo.
Rezenet sits in a small office near a computer desk and some vertical blinds. She uses sign language.
To put it briefly, I’m a deaf African lesbian. I’ve been confident in those identities my entire life. I was born deaf. I am using ASL now, but grew up using signing exact English, while modeling English speech on my lips. I grew up in St Louis, which is known for its strong PSE signing. I didn’t understand ASL until I moved to California. As I met people here I was heavily criticized for my sign style.
Growing up in St Louis I was very engaged in the classroom, raising my hand and giving any answer I knew, until one day the teacher’s aide or some adult in the deaf program told me to stop. “Wait. Let others answer.” That shut me down and I began to withdraw. Looking back, I also recall that all of my classmates were white and my teacher was white, which contributed to me being more reserved in class.
Then I moved to California to a school that was full of diversity, cultures and ethnicities, but I still had the habit of being reserved. That is until an interpreter encouraged me to raise my hand if I knew the answer. I had carried with me my old habit of being reserved in the classroom. So, thanks to that interpreters encouragement, I dropped my old bad habit and I began engaging in class again.
It’s funny, I went to a coffee shop recently and ran into my high school interpreter. She was so excited to see me and said she was happy to see that I’ve been successful. She let me know that some people have criticised her signing style, but that she felt like her PSE was acceptable. She asked me if she had done the right thing by using PSE when interpreting for me. Her question made me smile. I thought about it and, for me, her signing style was beneficial because I had grown up using PSE.
If I had had an interpreter who signed using ASL grammar, I would not have been able to understand. So interpreters need to be able to code switch to match a range of language needs. Interpreters are not only interpreters, but also advocates. Without the encouragement of the interpreter, I would have continued to be reserved in class. I would have never known it was okay for me to speak up.
It required some unpacking. I realize it’s okay to be me, it’s okay to know the answers, to be knowledgeable. As a student of colour, I could raise my hand and answer questions that summed up my interpreter experience. Now, as a teacher myself, I make sure to share these stories with my students who want to become interpreters.
The NDC logo. Black text beneath it reads nationaldeafcenter.org