“Silence is the last thing the world will hear from me”
This text is dedicated to Cesarina Delgado, Noé Romero and
to all people with hearing disabilities
in Mexico and the world.
The famous popular saying of “whoever keeps silent grants” tends to clarify that, if there is no objection to what is expressed by another person and, on the contrary, they remain silent, they are conceding the right to the other. In a nutshell, this translates to the idea that the listener’s silence credits the speaker and accepts his argument for the sole reason that he does not refute it. The reality is that not all silences show assent, even less so when they come from people who are unable to hear what is being said to them.
On November 28, 2019, in full commemoration of the National Day of Deaf People, the National Human Rights Commission indicated the existence of more than 690,000 people with hearing disabilities in our country, it was also urgent to prioritize, from the human rights model emanated of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the development of public policies capable of providing full inclusion in society of deaf people to achieve a dignified life and exercise fundamental rights: education, incorporation into the world of work and access to health services.
But, how can a non-hearing person access their fundamental rights without communicating? How to discuss, request and process something when the tools of deaf people to find out what corresponds to them by law are so limited?
I confess it with great shame: I studied English out of obligation and French out of pleasure; I understand Arabic and Hebrew by a whim of fate, but never, ever, had the idea of including the study of Mexican Sign Language (LSM) among my linguistic aspirations crossed my mind. I became aware of this responsibility when life presented me with the challenge of communicating with a group of deaf people. It happened to me a few years ago, when we were conducting research for the curatorship of the exhibition “Asi Soy. Persons with Disabilities”, which was presented at the Memory and Tolerance Museum of CDMX, in winter 2018.
In order to offer an experiential experience, generate empathy in the visiting public and make visible the complex day-to-day life of people with disabilities, we work closely with autistic people, people with motor, hearing, intellectual and visual disabilities. In one way or another, we were able to communicate and exchange ideas with all those invited to collaborate except with deaf people: an insurmountable barrier stood between us, a thick wall of aphonia that made us depend on interpreters, mostly people close to us who love, need and in many cases, obeying a feeling of solidarity, they dedicated themselves to alleviating the painful isolation in which those who do not listen live.
I return to the topic thanks to Netflix, Eugenio Derbez, the great Marlee Matlin and the brave cast of the film “CODA. Signs of the heart”. Inspired by “La familia Bélier”, the film highlights the difficulties and the human dilemma that touches the life of the young Ruby Rossi, daughter and sister of the deaf who comes to question a brand-new musical future due to her duty on the fishing boat of the family, in which he is the interpreter and the only contact with the outside world.
Without death, blood, speed or special effects and with a modest budget compared to the creations that accompany it in the nominations, CODA returns to the basics showing the empathy of the good teacher, the resignation of the parents for the good of the daughter and the sweetness of adolescent love, without neglecting the harsh world of discrimination, closure and prejudice. One harm that I believe, specifically in the case of deafness, comes from ignorance. We believe that deaf people “only live in silence”, while we neglect and minimize -because we don’t understand either-, the drama of their lack of communication.
In a world that insists on giving thanks for peace, health and humanity, the CODA exercise invites us to reconnect and feel. Also to understand the urgency of learning Sign Language, starting with Mexican.
Linda Atach Zaga is a Mexican art historian, artist, and curator. Since 2010 she has been the director of the Temporary Exhibitions Department of the Memory and Tolerance Museum in Mexico City.
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