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Signing in Puerto Rican

A Hearing Son and His Deaf Family

Andrés Torres

Publication Year: 2009

The only child of deaf Puerto Rican migrants, 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), Torres loved his parents deeply but also longed to be free from being their interpreter to the hearing world. 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. Torres 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. Torres became very active in the cause for Puerto Rico’s independence against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement and protest against the Vietnam War. Throughout these defining events, Torres’s 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.

Published by: Gallaudet University Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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1. The A Train

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pp. 1-5

STEP LIVELY, STEP LIVELY.” The conductor’s command came sharply over the loudspeaker as they jumped aboard. Life had taught them to regard punctuality as a vital habit. Too often they had been overlooked or left behind, so they were already poised at the doors as the subway slowed to a halt. My parents were going downtown to the Friday meeting of the Puerto Rican Society for the Catholic Deaf. ...

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2. Early Signs

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pp. 6-22

MY PARENTS, ANDRÉS TORRES and Bienvenida Ayala, were married in April of 1946, having met the previous year at a party at the Ayalas’ apartment at 1494 Madison Avenue, near 103rd Street. The apartment had been a center of socializing for deaf people who had come to New York from Puerto Rico because the Ayalas had four beautiful deaf daughters, known as las mudas, and deaf men came from all over the city...

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3. A Signing Village

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pp. 23-57

IN MY TENTH SUMMER, 1957, my parents found our new home, 514 West 176th Street, not far from my grandmother’s place on Amsterdam Avenue. On the fourth floor of a five-story walk-up we settled in. Apartment 43 consisted of a bedroom, a kitchen, a bathroom, and a living room, each sprouting off of a tiny hallway. After Mom and Pop conducted me on the maiden tour, which took all of...

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4. Hearing Streets

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pp. 58-71

WHAT I MISSED IN Maryland was the neighborhood and my friends. As mentioned earlier, in the summer of 1957 Mom and I had been reunited with Pop after a two-year stay with my cousins in southern Jersey. I was eleven when we moved back to Washington Heights. There I was introduced to the young crowd with whom I would form my core relationships for the next fifteen years. Many of them are close friends...

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5. Juvenile Maneuvering

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pp. 72-95

IN LATE FALL OF 1959, I was an eighth grader at Incarnation grammar school. The elementary grades were ending and it was time to plan for high school. We received leaflets describing the various schools, including what grade average each school required for admission and the tuition charged. An A student would have a shot at the elites: Xavier, Manhattan Prep, Fordham Prep, Mount St. Michael. Students...

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6. Observing and Learning

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pp. 96-112

ONE OF MY DUTIES, as the only hearing person in apartment 43, was to be the official sign-language interpreter. I was dispatched by my father to deal with interlopers from the hearing world who came knocking on our door, such as Mr. Bil the landlord, or Mr. Covello the Prudential Insurance agent, or anyone else wanting to separate our money from us. Pop knew perfectly well why they came and...

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7. Family Truths [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 113-135

DURING MY FRESHMAN year at Manhattan College, in the winter of 1965, my grandmother Ita became gravely ill. Her last week was spent at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. A short time later, my father’s sister Titi Blanca asked me if I could babysit her daughter Edna on Wednesday evenings. Blanca’s husband Carlos worked nights at Metropolitan Hospital, and she needed someone to watch over the...

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8. The Whole World Watching

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pp. 136-152

ONE NIGHT IN my junior year of college, over dinner, I dropped a bombshell on Mom and Pop: “I signed up for the U.S. Marine Corps. A man in a military uniform came to the college last month. He was recruiting students for a program called the Officers Candidate School, the OCS. This program is very tough. It prepares young men to be officers in the Marines. I have to go to training camp next summer. ...

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9. God and Marriage

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pp. 153-167

DURING THAT SAME SPRING, on a visit to building 514 and now as an outsider, Pop told me of a request he had received. It was a sensitive matter and he wasn’t sure how to handle it. He wanted my advice. “Your cousin Mary; she asked me for a favor. She wants me to give her away at the wedding in May.” Uh oh, I thought, the shit had hit the fan. The incident had been...

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10. Despierta Boricua

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pp. 168-189

WHEN I BEGAN WORKING at ASPIRA I quickly realized that there was a heavy political air among the employees, from clericals to professionals. Just about everyone was Puerto Rican, and therefore just about everyone had an opinion about the state of affairs on the island and in the U.S. Puerto Rican community. It was an exhilarating time and place. ...

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11. A Garden

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pp. 190-199

LITTLE DID MY PARENTS know, as they wondered how well my plans were aligned with their imagined future, that I was gradually remaking the personal side of my life. They were surprised when, in early 1974, I told them that I was going to remarry. My future wife was Vivian Rivera, the one with the sea-green eyes, whose brother Philip worked with me at ASPIRA. Mom and Pop had met Vivian only once...

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12. Puerto Rican and Deaf

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pp. 200-209

IT MIGHT HAVE SEEMED odd to anyone familiar with my family background that I was so immersed in Puerto Rican politics of the time. After all, what did the Puerto Rican deaf care about Puerto Rican politics? I rarely dwelt on this question then but many years later I did think more systematically about the connections between hearing and deaf Puerto Ricans. ...

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13. Bicentennial Moves

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pp. 210-219

IN EARLY 1975 I found myself in Cuba. I was sent to work for a few months in the PSP Mission in Havana, specifically to help make preparations for the First International Conference of Solidarity with the Independence of Puerto Rico. An outcome of the Acto Nacional at Madison Square Garden was an agreement to assemble the international community for a similar event. The conference would publicize...

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14. Border Crossings

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pp. 220-228

I VISITED MY PARENTS a few times during 1976, their first year in Puerto Rico. Their two-bedroom cement home was in an area where houses lined up a few feet from each other—technically unattached, but so close as to render the space between irrelevant. Housing in Caguas, Puerto Rico’s third largest city, was inexpensive compared to New York City, so with their modest savings and a lot of help from the...

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pp. 229-232

AFTER MY FATHER died in 1986, I brought Mom back to New York City and placed her in an apartment at Tanya Towers on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Tanya Towers was a rare gem of a place, offering housing to many low-income deaf and other disabled persons. Pop’s passing pulled Mom out of his shadow and permitted her to flourish. She became much more self-reliant, participating in Tanya Towers’...

E-ISBN-13: 9781563684371
E-ISBN-10: 1563684373
Print-ISBN-13: 9781563684173
Print-ISBN-10: 1563684179

Page Count: 242
Illustrations: up to 10 photos
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 794700902
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Signing in Puerto Rican

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Subject Headings

  • Torres, Andrés, 1947- -- Childhood and youth.
  • Children of deaf parents -- United States -- Biography.
  • Deaf -- Family relationships -- United States -- Case studies.
  • Puerto Ricans -- New York (State) -- New York -- Biography.
  • Deaf -- New York (State) -- New York -- Biography.
  • Catholics -- New York (State) -- New York -- Biography.
  • Puerto Rican Society for the Catholic Deaf.
  • New York (N.Y.) -- Biography.
  • Torres, Andrés, 1947- -- Family.
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