Radio Inspire

How To Learn Sign Language

ASL Lecture Series: Mia Sanchez


So, today we’re having
an ASL Lecture Series. The purpose of this is
for professional development to help you understand
the importance of ASL– it’s a language– and see people actually
use the language as well. If you want to listen to
the voice interpretation, there are headsets available
that you can pick up and listen in,
if you would like. OK? So, I know that some people
are still coming into the room, but I’m gonna go ahead and
start with the introduction of our guest presenter. I’m very excited
that she could come here and present to us today. So, my name is
Marguerite Carillo, and I teach in the
ASL-IE department here, so I teach
interpreting students. And I’m very excited
to have our guest today. She’s my friend. I’ve known her
when we were college students. And so, we’ve known
each other for a while. And our lives always seem
to cross paths, so I’m happy that she’s here
again to present to us. She’s from New York City.
She’s born and raised there, and she came here
as a college student. She had a bachelor’s degree and
master’s degree here as well at RIT. She worked at Riverside School
for the Deaf in California for almost 4 years, and she taught there
for about 4 years. Now she’s moved back
to New York City, and she’s established
her own business, which is very exciting, and she’ll share more
about that business, but it’s called
Dame Art Studio. And she has that with
her art partner Gayle Sanchez, and she will share
more about that later. And one thing that
I want you to know is that she has
an Instagram account. So, on Instagram, she has
amazing pieces on there. She videos her paintings, adds music to it,
and it’s really great. So I really
encourage all of you to follow her to hear her
stories and see her stories. So, welcome, Mia. Mia Sanchez. Welcome. Thank you. Thank you. Hello, everyone! Again, I’ll
introduce myself. I’m Mia.
This is my name sign. You might wonder why
that’s my name sign. When I was in California
at Riverside, I tended to fingerspell my name
again and again– M-i-a, M-i-a. And so, some signs
were developed, but we went on, and a Deaf
student came up and said, “I’ve come up with this
name sign for you.” And they said, “Because your
facial expressions are the bomb “and you are always so friendly, so I need to give you
this name sign.” So it was very touching, and I’ve used this name sign
ever since then. All right. So, I am here.
It is an honor to be here and to be selected
to join this. And so it took me a moment to
think of what I want to share. I want to show
a little bit of myself and hope that that
sticks with you and that can continue
on to others. Taking one hour of your time
really does mean a lot to me. And so, I want to
give you all something that you can take with you
when you leave this room. And so the topic that
I’ve picked today is “What Color is Your Soul?” This is not intended
to be religious or spiritual in any way, but it is more of
who you are as a human being. Who are you inside? Also, how do you
represent yourself in a variety of situations and
settings in our everyday lives? And so I picked the picture
that you can see, this window,
this beautiful window, gorgeous colors over here. And there’s a reason why
I picked that picture. Growing up, my family
attended church regularly. And I think a common Deaf
experience is often sitting in, you know, a Mass
or any setting and just looking around without
access and understanding. And so, for me, that actually
gave me a lot of opportunity to look and examine the windows
around me in the church. And, oftentimes,
they had some artwork, and it often tended
to be mosaics. And so, even as a young child,
a young Deaf child, I always remember seeing that
and remembering that window with all of the colors. It was just amazing how its
creators made a picture for us to see, and I realize it’s been in me
since then, if not before then. So the window in the church
that I remember being young. We move on to mood rings.
Who’s experienced a mood ring? Be honest. Who’s had one? Maybe–I think they made
earrings and necklaces. Right? So you all are nodding “Yes.” And it’s very exciting
to have those. I don’t know. They were probably
25 cents–so cheap. But just buy one as a child
and see what color came up on the mood ring and then look at
the list that they have and the feelings that
you’re experiencing. I remember being a child,
and I had no idea. I thought it was just magic. I thought like by putting
this ring on, it understood me, it knows me, what I’m–
this is amazing. But at that time,
I really didn’t realize that there’s
no battery in there, like there’s no chip,
no computer chip in there. It’s just a plastic ring
that I have on my finger. And so, at that time,
this is what I thought. But as I went through my years, I was imagining how something
so small, so very simple– but other magic balls, you know,
8 balls that you shake to tell you an answer to
a question that you posed. Really, all those
things rely on kind of how we define
a feeling for ourselves, how we define our thoughts. So, we’re relying on an external
object to do that for us. And how critical it is
to rely on ourselves instead of those
external things– knowing who we are to know
what we’re supposed to be doing, what we’re meant to do. And so it’s silly to think of as
a child my excitement for this. And now, as a grown woman,
I know what I want. I know. I don’t need
this external ring to tell me what I want. Now, to understand
the color of your soul, we have our physical
bodies here. You have your heart. And I would say between your
heart and your body, your soul exists from when you
were born, to being raised, how you were nurtured, through a variety of things
throughout your life. And your soul changes over time. It grows with you, just like your heart
grows with you, but your soul is really
how you present yourself– in the mirror, how you present
yourself to other people, what you say on a daily basis,
what you do, and how you impact others. They might forget your words,
your actions, but they will remember
how you make them feel. So I’m gonna focus
on the soul here. So one definition of
“soul-searching” also looks at my values,
my motivations. It looks at my beliefs
and my feelings. And all of that comes together
to impact my behavior. And, really, you need
to understand you, yourself first
before you can move on and make life decisions,
life choices. If you neglect yourself,
you do not partake in self-care and just go through life
getting by every day… I did that myself. And it doesn’t go well,
I have to tell you that. I had to take a break, pause,
and slow down. And sometimes it’s hiding,’cause
I had to take care of myself. I had to figure out what
I was doing in that moment, why I was doing
what I was doing, why I was even there
in that moment. And so those are
common questions that really are intended
to look at your purpose. So in that soul-searching…
it gave me the ability to get out and try again
and keep going. So, for soul-searching,
I am gonna emphasize 3 things: Thinking, reasoning is one; your beliefs, your attitudes,
emotions, and memories as the second part; and then the third part here is
your choices or decisions. I’m gonna expand a little bit
more about the last category, the third–
choices and decisions, ’cause it might seem like
a choice and a decision is the same thing. They seem very similar, but I have to let you know
that they’re very different. The choice versus a decision,
it has a huge role in how you behave, how you approach things in life. So, first, let’s look at
the word “choice.” It is usually things
am I comfortable with, do I like that– maybe there’s a weighing
of pros and cons– and then just picking something. That’s a choice. A decision, though, after
you’ve made that choice, right? So you’ve chosen what
you wanted to do. “Oh, I’m gonna do this. This is what I may be viewing
for my next part of life.” But it has very little impact,
the choice itself, whatever…whatever you
pick from that list. The important thing is
the actions thereafter, the decisions– “Am I gonna talk with someone?
Am I gonna ask for support? Where do I collect information?” And then feeling good
with that, and then going ahead and
seeing some kind of result from those actions. So the choice and the decision
are very different. And in your everyday life,
those happen almost immediately, all the time. We’re making so many
decisions about what we’re gonna wear to work
in the morning, what we’re gonna eat… maybe who I should invite
to go to the movies later. It’s a daily decision that are
all pretty minor in our lives. But life choices? Wow, those can be crucial
in impacting our life. Those are different. So I might make a decision
which college will I go to, which job should I
be applying to. If they hire me,
do I accept? Should I be moving to
a new location? Is marriage the choice
for me right now? Those large life decisions–
you can get caught in a moment. But if you step back,
if you take a time out, it’s a cost of your time. But at the same time,
it’s a cost of your soul, and it can impact that. And for me,
it cost me a lot, the decisions
that I’ve made. So I’m gonna explain
a little bit more of my personal experience
and share that with you and what I’ve done
in my soul-searching process and my life choices until today. I watched a Facebook video. I watch a lot of
inspirational videos in general, people who just speak
on different topics. And one pretty important
video talked about the timeline of our lives. And I watched this video,
and you know how people… buy lottery tickets
incessantly? And they just look forward,
to when the numbers are pulled and then, oh, they didn’t
win that day or that time, but the video said,
“You know what, “we are already lottery winners. “We have one life to live “compared to a million people
here on Earth. “We have it already. We already have won the lottery
by being here and alive.” And that, that really sunk in. It was a great concept
for me to hold onto. And hopefully, you know, if the
average lifespan is 100 years– it might be less,
given other factors– but…whatever you choose to do, the age that you look forward
to, that timeline, you can ask yourself,
“Are you doing enough “to make yourself happy
over those years? “Are you doing enough
to change the world? Are you doing enough even
to inspire people?” Do you feel like you
have to do things according to what
others expect? “By 30, I have to be married.
I have to have a new, shiny car. I have to be published.
I have to be in the newspaper.” Is that on your timeline? Some might have
later expectations. I remember seeing an article,
a man of 80 years old finally graduated from college. He held his life,
he put it on the back burner because he had
a sick family member and took care of them. Finally went back to school
and graduated at the age of 80, and that is a lifetime
accomplishment. We might think,
“Oh, he’s too old,” but for him, it meant
so very much. And so that taught me, really, there has to be a variety
in everyone’s timeline. There’s nothing perfect.
There’s nothing exact. I remember myself feeling
expectations of meeting others, their goals based on ages,
but that’s a society thing, and I felt very stressed and almost forced
that I had to do things. And a common thing tends to be
for college students is they have to
pick a major, right? They have to find their job when they get into college
and study something. Within a first year,
a freshman year, they’re gonna take
a variety of courses. They might change their major,
they might not finish school. They might transfer
to another school. And that’s OK.
That happens. And that’s a message
that needs to be shared. That even happened to me. I’m curious if you
know this author. One of his most
popular-selling books is “The 7 Habits of Highly
Effective People.” It was 1980s I believe
it was published, and it is still
a number-one seller. And you’ll see it
on the shelves if you go into
a bookstore today. One of the quotes
that he wrote, and I just thought
it fit so perfectly with what I want to talk
to you today about… you can see it up here. “I am not a product
of my circumstances. I’m a product
of my decisions.” So, again, I am not
a product of my circumstances. I am a product
of my decisions. So when I made the decision
to come to RIT, I was 17. Grew up in a hearing family, only deaf individual
in the whole family. And my family could
communicate with me. I would try to read lips.
They didn’t sign. My relationship with
my parents–you know, often came to, you know,
family planning, school, eating, but it was
very, very surface level. It wasn’t anything to do
with life’s intricacies, what was going on in my psyche, what I was feeling
with my emotions. So when I left to go to college,
I remember my mom coming in. And as I was packing,
going through the list, making sure I had
everything that I needed, checking off the list
on the paper, and my mom said to me, “Make sure you don’t
come home pregnant, addicted to drugs,
or messing up your grades.” And so guess what. I got pregnant.
Ha ha ha! At 19. Young. So just imagine for a moment
how my mom felt. I told her over TTY. [Laughter] Luckily at that time,
I didn’t have Face Time, I didn’t have to look her in
the eyes when I told her. So I used the TTY to tell her.
I told my mom the news, and she was shocked,
just taken aback. The first thing that
she said was, “Come home.” And I thought, “No,
I don’t want to. I don’t want to go home, no,” because I was under pressure
of my own expectations, and I didn’t want to
disappoint my family either. You know, “What did Mia
do this time” was something that
I didn’t want to hear. I was really happy
here at RIT. And the situation
did impact me. I did get pregnant. I was in a
domestic violence relationship, but I also didn’t know
how to work through that. I was nervous, unsure
of how to move forward. And so my mother
called my brother who was in Iraq
fighting in that war. And so my brother, driving over
the desert, wherever he was, to a computer station to be able
to sit down and connect with me via AOL. You know the chats that
we used to use, with the little
running man logo, right? You’re picturing AOL and the instant messaging
we used to do. That was the only way
because on the phone, that wouldn’t have worked. So he was determined
to talk with me. And so my mom told me, “You have
to go talk with your brother. Pull up AOL. Get ready
to chat with him.” So I was bawling
as I pulled it up, because all of my family
was far away. And so just seeing the messages
going back and forth, and he’s asking me
what happened. I explained, explained
my situation, how I got pregnant,
that I wanted to stay, but mom is trying to
force me to go home. And it really just seemed that
there was so much worry there, but I also wanted to show people
that I could do it. And the first thing
my brother said was “Breathe. Breathe. Take a breath.” And he said, “You, my sister,
I have loved you “since the moment I met you… “and I believe that
you can do it. “You know, don’t abort it.
Keep the baby. I believe that
you can do it.” Yep. He reinforced that. “Please don’t. “You never know what’s going
to happen to the person “if you abort the baby. “You have to keep going
with that. “If that individual goes,
there may be more joy “that comes from the situation when they come home
and see you.” So, in tears, I agreed, and
I decided to keep the baby because I think I made a life
choice within that situation, and I wasn’t alone. I had my brother with me
in that life choice. I didn’t know,
no one told me that single motherhood is hard. No one told me.
No one told me that. There’s no brochures. There’s
no information out there to go through college full time
and take care of a baby and try to balance life to keep my passion,
my involvement going. And time management?
Wow! There was a huge lesson that
I learned from the interaction, but I did it. I graduated. I got
my master’s degree. I became a teacher. And I am happy that
I made the decision, and I overcame that situation
to show who I am and who I’m meant to be– a leader,
a college graduate, a mother, and a teacher. So when you go through
the soul-searching process, you might think
that it’s simple. You think of a simple circle
and start with yourself. And then you expand that
to your friends and family, people who you care about. And then you expand it more
to the community, your job, your school, …
hospitals, stores, airports. And then outside of that
are people… ’cause if there are no people,
there’s no community. So you need to work with people
to have a community and to be involved in that
kind of an experience. And then we all live
on the Earth. Right now,
from what I’m seeing, we don’t take care
of the Earth very well. So I’m concerned. If the Earth isn’t here, then it means we won’t
be here either. So, that’s the big picture. But going back to yourself. Inside yourself,
you have 3 layers. So what does that look like?
Let me show you. You start with
what you can control– your thoughts,
your feelings, your choices,
your decisions. You have the power. You have
control of that circle. And if you’re ready to say
something or do something, it becomes influence,
not just to yourself, but you’re influencing
others at that point. And then expanding from there
is what you can’t control– for example, the weather… diseases… other people
and their decisions. You also can’t control other
people’s feelings or behaviors. You can’t control that.
You can’t control time. You can’t be young forever.
Eventually, you will grow older. There are a multitude of things
that we can’t control out there. If you invest so much
time and stress into what you can’t control,
then you’re ignoring yourself and what you actually
can control. People on social media, people that you hang out with– a lot of times,
people are complaining. “Oh, I have to
go to work tomorrow. “There’s gonna to be
so much traffic. “I’m not in the mood
to go to work. “You know, I’ll–late, and they’ll never understand
because of all the traffic.” So you hear a lot
of complaints out there. And people don’t realize that it’s the little things
that you tell me won’t necessarily benefit me,
but it’s affecting you. People let problems
and stress take over, and then how do you
respond to that? You could say, “Well,
maybe if you try to leave a little bit earlier,
you won’t be late.” Or, you know, “Find
a different route to work.” Try to work with them
and find something positive out of the conversation. I’ve talked with a lot of people
who are pessimistic. You know what hurts the most
is that I see a lot of students that I’ve taught over
the last 6 years. They already have
self-doubt in them… really critical of themselves
and, you know, they feel like they’re limited. They feel, “Eh,
it is what it is.” I’ve dealt with several
Deaf students who are like that, and I finally understand
the purpose of teaching. In the MSSE program
here at NTID, it really prepped me well, but it didn’t prep me
for the students and their experiences. That’s out of my control. So when they come
in my classroom, then that’s something
that I can control. What I teach, how I plan,
how I prep, how I work with them,
that’s things I can control, but when they’re out in the
world or at home, I can’t control that. So I just have to
take advantage of the time that
I have with them. I’m gonna tell you
a story about a boy at the California School
for the Deaf in Riverside. And this boy was difficult. I taught special needs students,
and we’ll abbreviate that “SN.” And they were a middle school-
age group of students. So there was one boy, and he
really had no motivation. His family was
a Mexican family, and they spoke Spanish. And he had some familiarity
with the culture and everything, but he just had
a lack of language. So I would work with him, and we worked together
for about 2 years. He had the knowledge,
he had the ability, but it was just the actual
dynamics between him and I. And we had to work together,
and we worked really hard and things started
to improve for him. And he left the
special needs classroom and went into
a mainstream classroom. At first, we tried one class
to see how it went, and then we added
a second class and so on. But he kept coming
into my room if he didn’t understand
the homework or he was overwhelmed by it. And so after school, he would
sit down to make sure that he was feeling comfortable
in all of his classes. And then he started to come
see me less and less, and I knew he was OK. I knew that he was comfortable
out there in other classrooms. When I left,
it was really hard. You know, it felt like, “Oh,
what if people forget about me or what if nobody
cares about me?” And so it was hard for him
when he left the school. But anyway, when he
went to 8th grade, I went back to the school
and gave a presentation, and I saw the students
who I had in 6th and 7th grade, and they were ready
to go on to high school. After the presentation,
you know, it was time to say all the names,
give them the diploma, and everything like that. And so there was
a superintendent and the principal’s there. And as the students
went through, I saw that boy that
I had struggled with and worked with for 2 years. And he had grown quite a bit.
He was a lot taller than he was when I first worked
with him. And so… Typically, the students will say
“I love you” to their family and to their teachers
and all of that, just give brief remarks. And so, um… And then, “I want to
say thank you.” He said, “I want to say
thank you to everyone,” and then he pointed to me. He said, “Thank you,
you specifically, “’cause without you,
I wouldn’t be here. “I’ve grown so much,
and I never thought “that I would be able to read or
write or make new friends. “I didn’t think I would be
ready to go to high school. “You know, but to graduate from
school and to get into college, it would be amazing.” I was just tearing up. It was so touching. It was minimal in the moment,
but it meant a lot to me ’cause there was a lot
of payoff for that boy. And I was just sobbing. And this superintendent
is like patting my back, making sure I was all right. So… I didn’t realize, you know,
I can’t control things in life, but in my classroom,
I can do what I can, and I saw the results
of that that day. So I left that school
feeling better. You know, I didn’t lose
or miss anything, and he’ll always be
a part of my heart. So this is my timeline. Just last week,
I turned 35. [Several people clapping] So you can see where I’m at
right now on the timeline. Almost halfway there. And if I’m honest with myself,
am I doing enough? What more can I do? Want to do some more
soul-searching about that. I had a long struggle, and I’m not proud of
everything that I’ve done. Had some disappointments, joys. I’ve lost friendships,
I’ve had breakups. I’ve had jobs that
I’ve had to leave. I’ve had a lot
of difficult times and a lot of
difficult decisions that have impacted
my life choices, and I’ll explain
some of them to you and how it led me
here today. So these are my grandparents. They were born
in the Caribbean in Costa Rica and Jamaica. My father was born
in Puerto Rico. The key is my grandparents here. They moved to Harlem
in the late 1940s. And at that time, it was
the Harlem Renaissance, and there was a lot of
immigration during that time. My grandparents shared a house
with other immigrants as well, and they had to find a way
to survive. In Jamaica, my grandfather
was a famous poet. He was well-known in Jamaica. But when he moved to New York,
he was a nobody. And he worked hard doing
different odd jobs to provide for his family. Some of his choices
were not healthy. My grandmother tried her best. She was involved with the
Harlem Dance Theater and music. She went to church,
played the piano. She taught ballet classes. Both of my grandparents did
their best to make ends meet. There was 4 girls,
and my mom was the youngest. And then my mom had 4 kids,
and I was her second child. So I’m a second generation
here in America. My mom is first generation,
and I’m the second generation. And my mom was the first to
graduate with a master’s degree, and I’m the second one
to graduate with a master’s. And now I have two girls,
so we’ll see what happens there. And I’m thankful that my
grandparents moved to America, because I’m not sure what
it would have been like for me as a deaf female
in another country. I may have missed
a lot of opportunities to become who I am today. I probably wouldn’t be the same
person if I was born in a different country. So I’m really thankful
to my grandparents who make the sacrifices
and move here to give my family a better life. There’s a picture of me
and my brother. You can see the FM system
I’m wearing? I hated it,
hated it so much. So I was born hearing,
and then I became sick, very sick with scarlet fever
and measles. I had a really bad case
of both of them. So I had to stay home
and stay in bed when I was ill. And once I finally recovered… and I was playing around
with my brother, and my mom called us. My brother turned and went,
but my mom called me, said, “Mia, Mia,”
and I didn’t look. I was 1 at the time,
so my mom was puzzled that I didn’t respond. So she got pots and pans
from the kitchen and banged them together,
banged the door, stomped, and I did not turn
and look at all. So my mom knew
something was wrong, brought me to the doctors,
and found out I was deaf. Now, I’m a 1980s baby,
and at that time, there was a strong
Oralist tradition. You know, there was
a strong emphasis on hearing and speaking, so my mom tried to find
the best approach for me. And we tried several
different suggestions– speech therapy, we went
to audiologists, and went through the whole
gamut of options. One put me through
speech therapy and through– worked with an audiologist. And she wanted me to have
communication access, but she didn’t realize
that ASL was also critical. And it wasn’t her fault. She was just trying
her best to make sure that I was in both worlds. And so in elementary school,
we’re looking for interpreters, but I had to lipread
an interpreter. And after lunchtime,
when, you know, you were eating
and then you would play and then you had to
sit there and read lips. I don’t remember the teacher.
I don’t remember the classmates. I remember the
interpreter’s mouth. That’s what I remember
because I was staring at the interpreter’s
mouth so much. I lacked social experience.
I lacked involvement. And so my mom was looking for
an interpreter who could sign. And they came and sat
in front of me, signed, and I wasn’t used to it. I said, “You know,
I depend on lipreading, and I didn’t
understand the signs.” So the interpreter
was very patient and working through it. She wasn’t just an interpreter,
she actually became my friend and became a mentor for me, teaching me about Deaf Culture on deaf and hard-of-hearing
people as well. Said, “You know, there’s a deaf
president at Gallaudet– I. King Jordan.” And she explained that
deaf people can do everything except for hear. And so she just
taught me so much. And at Kindergarten class, she said that I could sign
a story to the class. She was just trying to help me
appreciate my Deaf identity. So I’m really grateful to that
interpreter for all she did to make sure that I knew what
my role, not just as a person but also as a Deaf person. So I also thank my mom
for looking for somebody to interpret for me and then
for that interpreter just willing to go
above and beyond. And while I went through that,
my eyes had to work so hard and my brain
was just exhausted from those experiences. And I found my passion in art
because it was comfortable, and I was able to express
what I…myself, and I couldn’t
find the right words. If I couldn’t find the right way
to explain something, I would just use art
to express myself. So I did a lot of the speech,
listening, and art. I did them both
at the same time, and they’ve been in me
for a long time. And reading as well. Books are my best friend. I read a lot. Even if our family
would go to the movies, I’d ask for the name
of the movies, I’d find a book
related to that movie, and then I’d read it
before I went because I didn’t have
captions on my movies. So I would read the book
and then go watch the movie. And the odd part… I’d say, “Oh, yeah,
I could tell a story,” but it wasn’t in the movie. It was in the book. So I knew more than my family
by reading the book than from them
watching the movie. And so I really benefited
from reading all of those books. So I want to explain
a little bit more about my own deaf experience. I was mainstreamed,
never went to a deaf school, and so relied on interpreters
every year until graduation. Of course, I had good
and bad interpreters. It doesn’t mean that
they didn’t love their jobs– that’s not what
I’m intending here– but some of them were newer
and they were trying their best, and I accepted the range
that I saw. And I think interpreters
are the key in our community. Without them… how we express ourselves,
how we hear, how access is provided, and how we gain access
to information– so I have high respect
for interpreters. Even though I’m a proud
Deaf individual, without interpreters, I don’t
think I’d be recognized enough. So thank you for
the interpreters that are here
in the room with us. The movie that you see here… We’ve seen these movies, right? “Sound and Fury”? Wow. Let’s talk
about that video. I didn’t meet a lot
of deaf individuals. I watched that movie… saw the difference
of the families, their approaches, the decision
for a cochlear implant. The decision for
the deaf father and how he was so
torn up about that and how he felt excluded
and put down and how the deaf father,
the baby and the second one, his brother–I’ve never
seen so much emotion that happens
within one movie, the conflict and controversy. It really made me think
about my own anger, my own disappointment, fear, desire even, maybe,
to be hearing. So that movie really
made me question who I am as a Deaf person. Should I be mad at my family
because they don’t sign, maybe because I don’t speak
clearly enough or well enough ’cause I’m not deaf enough? It really took
some soul-searching and some self-identifying
about what’s going on. I’m not gonna get a CI.
I’ll rely on my hearing aids. I’ll speak. I’ll sign. I’ll find
a way to navigate the world. And I met some people that said,
“Oh, you know what. “You’re a Deaf person, “but you might as well
be a hearing person in how you behave.” I went to the
Youth Leadership Camp, and of course, wow,
the Deaf individuals there– it was a culture shock for me. They are known
for their sports. You know, schools of the Deaf,
Deaf families. And here I was, thinking,
“Where do I fit in? Where do I even belong?” And there was an activity that
was trivia about Deaf History, and so there were teams
that knew the answer. They knew their stuff. I had no idea. So they would call on me
and ask me a bunch of questions, and I didn’t know
how to answer. They’re like, “Come on, this is
easy. This is the answer.” My self-esteem was crushed
from attending that. I came to camp to learn. I didn’t come here
to impress anybody. So social peer pressure
at that time was overwhelming. I made it through.
I made some friends. I began to understand more
and pick up on things. I could become a leader. And so from that camp, it was a
tough experience in the moment, but I think it was one of
the best experiences I’ve had as a Deaf person
for my Deaf experience. That’s my dream school–ha ha!–
Fashion Institute of Technology. I love art. I look up to FIT.
It’s in New York City. I wanted to go to
that school so bad. I was taking Saturday classes
every Saturday for a year. I took everything that I could. It was thousands of people
that apply to gain admission
to that college, and they limited it to 500. And so, my thought was,
“That’s fine, “but you know what,
I have to show up and do different tests.” It’s like the quality of the art
that you can produce, a lecture, an essay–
so I did all of that and got my place
within the school, and I was hoping, waiting. I got a letter back
of acceptance, and I was thrilled. Showed my mom. “I want
to go there! I got in!” And my mom said, “No. You’re
not going to that school. RIT is better.” And I was like, “RIT? Why?” And she said, “No. “They have both hearing
and deaf students there. You have full access available
and the reputation is stellar.” And I said, “No, but FIT, too!” We went back and forth. And at that time–I have to
respect my mother. I did. And so she made
the choice for me, meaning she knows better
than me, but I accepted it. I backed down
from that conversation and said, “We’ll go ahead
with RIT.” And today, I still
wonder, again, what my life would have
been like if I went to FIT. And I’m not sorry,
I don’t regret it, but it could be different. It could be. Got into RIT, had a baby, continued on–
again, persistent, wasn’t giving up. My best memory of RIT was a
program called Global Reach Out. We tended to call it GRO. And so it asked for
Deaf volunteers to go to another country, but it
was more of, like, workshops and activities to learn about
that country, right? And the goal was to empower the
people that lived there. So I went to India for a month,
and that was 2007, and then I went to Thailand
for 2 weeks in 2008. And the experiences
were so impactful. When I got out of those
and left to see Deaf people in their own countries, especially what we would call
a third-world country, it is so much harder on them,
their daily lives, than we have it here. It really made me realize
that I am fortunate for what I have have here. And doing all of that work,
I loved it. The person who set up…
this one, I am so thankful for them because of the opportunity they
gave to all of us that attended to go through and interact
with Deaf individuals across the world. So, if you’re curious
or are considering applying, I would tell you to do it.
It is so worth it. I think that they
accept individuals up to the age of 30. So if you’re under 30,
take advantage of that. So I graduated in 2008. It was a bad time
to graduate. Ha ha! So Wall Street crashed,
people lost jobs. The economy crashed,
businesses shut down. So as I got ready to leave RIT
and felt good about graduation, there were no jobs available. Great. What am I
supposed to do now? So I decided
to come back to RIT for my graduate degree. I was gonna become
a teacher. I knew that would be
a guaranteed job. So I said, “All right,
I’m coming back to RIT, “and that’s gonna be
my choice. I’m gonna go back
to school.” Graduated,
became a teacher, because I knew that
I would have job security and it would be a stable
environment for my daughter. We would have
the same schedule. I would have
reliable pay. So I just talked about
all of the things that I would do for others,
right? I haven’t mentioned
anything about me yet. I haven’t done anything for
myself at this point in time. I’m doing a lot for others. I have to do something
for myself, and I finally realized that. So I moved to California. My family was upset,
but I didn’t care. I moved. I had to move. I had to
try to get out. I had to find work,
and I could work at the California
School for the Deaf. So I taught at RSD
for a brief moment in time. They did offer me
a position, and I don’t regret my decision,
but I went to California and worked for 4 years. So, in California,
I had a job. I have a home,
got married, second baby–
life was good. My husband’s from Japan. Wanted work, wanted to
go back to New York City for better opportunities. He’s a tattoo artist. So I agreed to go
back to New York. I left my job,
I left my home, got to New York City, shared a family–or
a home with a family. So I wanted to take care
of my little one, make sure
my husband could work. And he fell into his job. He became married
to his job, basically– no longer married to me
in the same way. And so the best decision
was to become separated. I don’t want to hate him.
I respect him. In the culture
where he’s from, you are married
to your work. You are dedicated
in that way. So we’ve decided the best thing
to do is separate. But now what do I do?
What are my life choices now? So I had to set up
a business. So, we can notice concerns
happening around, but in the moment,
what I do or what I decide will influence
what’s happening. Should I let that external
concern and issue control me, or do I control it? Do I control what’s
going on around me? And you know what,
I’m proactive. Whatever’s happening
that I cannot control, I can move through,
I can work. So situations have come up,
I accept them, and I find a way
to make it work. So you really have to
think about don’t let the concerning,
stressed-out behavior take over you. Find a way
to make yourself happy. Make yourself successful. On the left, the picture of me
and my business partner Gayle. She also came to RIT. We decided that we were gonna
start up a business, and I’m thankful for her
for making the decision with me. We made it together. My daughter
is on the right… when
she was younger. So she went to
a CODA camp. My daughter’s hearing, but she wanted to make sure
that she knew she was a CODA. And so the first time, she was
a little worried to go, but I thought,
“You know what, “I went to Youth Leadership Camp
for a month. You’ll be fine.”
So she was very nervous. I kept encouraging her.
“It’s good for you. Go, go, go.” So this is her camp counselor
Kasimir Clark. And she took care
of my daughter, supported her
through every moment. And she said, “You know what,
I love her, “her energy,
everything she brings. And it was just like she gets
what it’s like to be a CODA.” And so we ended up working
in the same place– California Riverside. And so we were actually
in the same hallway and saw each other. What a wonderful coincidence–
her energy. And I thought,
“You know what, “we look the same and
acted the same, “but people often thought
we were sisters just because of the similarities
we shared.” She texted me last year
and said, “I know that you left
Riverside, “but we should have
a family fun weekend. “We should do art
for the auction. Would you be willing
to donate?” She’s like, “Come on, come on,
let’s do this,” you know. “I’ll keep reminding you
every day until you send me something.” So I agreed–
made her a piece and sent it on. Because of her,
she really helped me break through
my journey as an artist. More people asked
for more pieces, so I began to paint more. I haven’t even mentioned that. But I was so stressed that
because of her, she convinced me, “This is
now time to put your art out there for
the world to see.” And ever since then, I’m so thankful for
the two of them for making me able to become
the artist that I am. My aunt, Inez Alexander,
with my second daughter. When I went back to New York,
I see her and got a chance
to spend time with her. She has a brain tumor. She’s had it for probably
15+ years at this point in time. She’s still doing well. When I moved back, I could see her body
basically was maxed out. I asked her, you know,
“How are you overcoming this, this long struggle?” “Well, the doctors told me
I had 6 months to live, “but I wasn’t
gonna hear that. I was gonna travel.” She does not have
a husband, no children, but she was gonna go out
and live her life. And full of love,
full of energy. And she beat cancer
for quite some time until her body
just hit the–maxed out, and she passed away
this last February. But she made her life
worth living. She couldn’t
control cancer, but she could
control her daily choices, and that’s what she did. Now moving over,
a friend of mine from Riverside, same age as I am, was involved,
volunteered, supported students,
hilarious, saw him this last summer and visited California when I
was there. Last month,
passed away. Of course,
I wondered what happened and learned doctors said,
“Oh, it’s pneumonia,” but coughing lasted
a lot longer, was pretty exhausted, went back to the doctor
several times. On the third visit,
ended up staying. Had Stage 4 cancer. “No, that couldn’t be.
Maybe a lung transplant. Maybe some other options.” And so fought
from that diagnosis. His best friend,
his family members sat down with him
and said, “You are going to die. Just sign the paper.” And so the doctor–when they
said “Stage 4 cancer”… he died the same week. This person was
full of life, wanted to take over the world
and beat it, but he wasn’t
given the time. So when I compare
these two individuals– my aunt who beat cancer
for as long as she physically could and a friend that was told
and then passed within a week, both are gone, but they
both taught me a lot. You have to use
your timeline wisely. This is what I’ve been doing
for the past year, all of this–ha ha! Traveling a lot,
different organizations, representing my business. I use my time…
Full-time mom, still pursuing
full-time work to get all of this done, and this has happened
within a year. And I have more
opportunities to come. I donate my art
to these organizations. I travel, visit Deaf schools,
I study art. It’s worth it to me. Last week,
my 35th birthday, I decided to have
an art show. I essentially
put myself out there because I’ve neglected
my joy, my passion. I decided at 35, I was gonna
have an art show. People came, celebrated
with me, and it was such
a gift to myself. And I’m so happy
that I did that. And so it was a kickoff
for more to come, doing more for myself. Right? [Laughter] Right? This is the perfect
example of that. It’s OK. This actually looks
more fun on the right. There’s more stories
that come along with that. Yeah, keep that in mind. It is OK to go on a journey
that you didn’t expect, but know that
you will get there. Don’t give up. So, what color is my soul? What color is my soul? What color? I’m a colorful mess. I can’t pick one color.
I can’t. You know, psychology
has different colors, so this is
the psychology of colors. When I go home,
when I go to work, to a meeting,
in the store, here at RIT, there are multiple colors,
and that’s OK. When I’m at home,
I might be green. When I might be at school,
I might be red. I might be blue
somewhere else. There’s no way that we
can pick just one color. So be your own rainbow. People say, “Oh, wow,
you know, “you used to be so quiet,
you used to be so serious. Now you’re out there.
What is wrong? What’s changed?” I’ve grown,
I’ve changed, and I’m OK with that. I do not have to stay
the same person. I’m not a robot. If you notice something, that means I’m doing
something right. People say, “Oh, you know,
you’re not like you used to be.” “Well, thank you”
is my usual answer, again, ’cause it means
I’m doing something right. It’s OK. So, whatever you do,
breathe. Take the time to look
deeper into yourself. When you come out again,
you keep going. And only be kind. Everyone struggles.
I still struggle. But if you be kind,
that costs nothing. It’s free. Whatever you do
in your very busy life, take the time to appreciate
sunsets, sunrises, your favorite ice cream,
nature. It’s the small things.

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