Rachel Mazique, MA ’10, has hearing aids, but she rarely wears them. As Miss Deaf America—and a UT graduate student—she explains how her world is still full of noise.
How did you become Miss Deaf America?
It was a ripple effect. I’m from Chicago, and the Illinois Deaf Latino Association asked me to be in their ambassador competition. At first I said no, but once I learned that it wasn’t about beauty—there wasn’t a swimsuit portion—I thought, why not?
Next I went to the Miss Deaf Illinois Pageant, and finally the national competition. Along the way, I decided to do it not just for fun, but to represent deaf culture.
Tell me about your work at UT.
My PhD research is focused on deaf literature, which has the potential to be studied on a national basis as an emerging field of minority literature. I am also an accessibility editor in the Digital Rhetoric & Writing Lab.
You teach freshman composition. Is anything different in your classroom?
I use sign language interpreters when I teach. That means working as a team. Some English words don’t have an exact sign, so I’ll create a sign and notify the interpreters. I share my lesson plans with them in advance, so that keeps me from procrastinating [laughs].
Do you know any foreign sign languages?
Yes, one of my passions is learning foreign sign languages. I’ve studied LSE, the Spanish sign language, and British Sign Language (BSL). It’s funny—you’d think that BSL would be very similar to ASL, because American English and British English are so similar, but BSL is totally different. ASL and BSL speakers cannot understand each other.
Other than a common language, what do deaf people share?
Traditions, values, technology, history. There are hundreds of years of deaf history, and of audism—discrimination against a person based on hearing status. When my grandfather was in elementary school and his teachers saw him using sign language, they would punish him. We’ve come a long way since then.
What misconceptions do you encounter about deaf people?
The big misconception is that we can’t do what other people can. Can deaf people speak, drive a car, teach hearing students? Of course we can, but it’s not obvious to everyone. Some people think that sign language isn’t a real language.
I have hearing aids, but I can’t recall the last time I wore them. Hearing is not essential to my life. My “sounds” come through my eyes. Movement is a form of noise to me—visual noise. My life is still full of “sound” in this sense.
People think that being deaf is just about the ear. Well, it’s a lot more. It’s a cultural identity. I’m proud to be deaf.
Photo courtesy Rachel Mazique