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The People Who Spell

The Last Students from the Mexican National School for the Deaf

Claire L. Ramsey

Publication Year: 2011

The Escuela Nacional para Sordomudos (ENS), translated as the Mexican National School for the Deaf, opened its doors in the 1860s as part of the new democracy’s intention to educate its deaf people. The ENS taught using Lengua de Señas Mexicana (LSM), Mexico’s native sign language, but the school was closed permanently in 1972 in favor of an oral approach to deaf education. Thus, its former students still alive today provide the last link to this historical institution. In this compelling social history, Claire L. Ramsey presents these unique Deaf Mexicans from their extraordinary experiences as ENS students and signers to their current personal lives. One ENS signer, María de los Ángeles Bedolla, inspired the title of the book, The People Who Spell. In her account, she describes herself and her classmates as cultured and educated compared to the young, orally trained students of today. The ENS signers pride themselves on el deletreo, LSM fingerspelling, which they consider key to their sophistication. Ramsey relates each of the signers’ childhoods, marriages, work experiences, and retirements. However, she brings threads of their stories together to reveal a common and abiding disappointment in modern-day Mexico’s failure to educate its deaf citizens according to the promise made more than 100 years ago. The narratives of the ENS signers detail their remarkable lives and heritage but also legitimately question the future of Mexico’s young deaf people.

Published by: Gallaudet University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

I have many people and institutions to thank for making this book possible. The project upon which it is based required many visits to the field while I was living in Lincoln, Nebraska, and San Diego, California, so travel and logistics required a great deal of attention. I am grateful to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) Department of ...

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1. Somos Sordos Mexicanos: We Are Deaf Mexicans

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pp. 1-13

In December 2007, a group of about 80 Deaf and hearing Mexican signers of Lengua de Señas Mexicana (LSM) met in Mexico City. The purpose of this small conference was to disseminate the outcomes of several investigations of LSM to the key informants who had provided the raw data for the research. A second purpose was to hold a discussion ...

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2. The Research in Mexico City

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pp. 14-35

I did not visit the interior of Mexico until 1996, but my sentimental visits to an imagined Mexico began many years earlier, when I was in the third grade. That year my school district, outside Seattle, Washington, sent an English- and Spanish-speaking museum docent to visit my classroom with a trunkful of objects from Mexico. Soon thereafter, Mrs. Morris, our ...

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3. Deaf Lives and Research on Deaf Lives in Mexico

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pp. 36-65

The ENS signers’ narratives could easily stand alone, and any reader interested in Mexico, in Deaf people, or in sign languages, would be able to engage with them. Ultimately, though, the narratives have value beyond their charms as life stories from a barely known group. They are individual autobiographical narratives, as well as expressions of the collective ...

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4. The History of Deaf Education in Mexico and the ENS Signers

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pp. 66-92

As Juárez’s 1861 decree to establish a school for Deaf Mexicans was being published, forces more overwhelming than declarations about Deaf education swept into Mexico. Mexico gained independence from Spain in a long war (1810–1821), but for the rest of the 19th century Mexico was unstable and vulnerable. In July 1861, President Juárez suspended debt repayments to England, Spain, and France. ...

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5. Childhood and School Years

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pp. 93-132

As I watched the videotaped interviews with the ENS signers, I was particularly interested in their stories about the reasons they are Deaf and their sense of the kind of children they were, especially before they encountered signing and other Deaf children. I also noted that they all talked about their parents’ search for schooling for their Deaf child. ...

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6. The Differing Lives of Deaf Women and Men

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pp. 133-158

Although it is reasonable to think that students leave school once they have completed all grades, in Mexico, in the past as well as in contemporary times hearing and Deaf students leave school for a variety of reasons, only one of which is because they have finished all of the grades offered. Some of the ENS signers decided on their own simply to ...

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7. Social and Married Lives

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pp. 159-185

When the ENS signers began to marry and have their own families, their hearing parents’ sometimes irrational fears about having Deaf people in the family revealed themselves. And for most of the ENS signers, becoming parents created completely new relationships with hearing people in the form of their own children. ...

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8. The Collective Remembering of the ENS Signers

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pp. 186-227

Beyond telling the chronologies and the events of their lives, some of the ENS signers also focused their attention on LSM, its sociolinguistic context, and Deaf people who fit in two contrasting categories: ignorantes (roughly, unschooled or without knowledge) or inteligentes (schooled). They told, and retold, the story of the founding of ENS ...


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pp. 229-236


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pp. 237-253

E-ISBN-13: 9781563685064
E-ISBN-10: 156368506X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781563685057
Print-ISBN-10: 1563685051

Page Count: 232
Illustrations: 10 photographs
Publication Year: 2011