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Passing on our cultural stories: A visit with Dr. Andrés Torres

May 11, 2011
Arrow Buff


By GSR 211: “Deaf Latino Identities” students

Meeting someone whose work has been published can be surreal for some students. This was especially true for Breanna Wilson, who read Dr. Andrés Torres’ book, Signing in Puerto Rican, in GSR 211: “Deaf Latino Identities.” Though she had discussed the book with her classmates and co-instructors Dr. Cristina Berdichevsky, a professor in the Department of Foreign Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, and Dr. Franklin Torres, an instructor in the English Department, meeting the writer during his April 21, 2011 visit to campus was a different kind of experience. Wilson later wrote in a summary of the visit what was going through her mind that day:  “Oh my goodness, it’s actually Andrés Torres, the author!”

Although Signing in Puerto Rican told a story familiar to Torres–of his childhood and his relationship to his parents–it still took him 10 years to develop a book and have it published. The careful scrutiny and remembrance of the past that went into the book was apparent on the day Torres came to present to the class.

Another thing that immediately stood out to his audience was his signing.

The way Torres signs was influenced by the way he, the hearing son of deaf Puerto Rican parents, communicated with his parents and grew up in New York City in a large, extended family that included several deaf aunts and uncles. To watch him express himself, one can imagine how each sign has been nurtured, rather than simply learned. The same process applied to the way he put his book together, gradually remembering his own history as he sorted through the boxes of photos and diaries belonging to his family.

Torres documents his personal history in the pages of his book, and he encouraged the students to do the same. He emphasized that writing their history is crucial both to themselves and to help others understand the multifaceted conditions of their personal history and identities. Torres demonstrated this idea by making a series of events that happened when he was a child meaningful to a classroom of 20 students.

Before he left the class, Torres said to the students, “For me, my culture is inseparable from my work, whether political, professional, or volunteering.” He once again encouraged the students  to document their personal histories, because they all have stories to tell of their own deaf experiences that could benefit future generations of deaf people.

On April 20, Torres also attended an event for the Keeping the Promise program, which focuses on promoting the intellectual advancement of black and Latino deaf  students. Faculty members and students enjoyed a brief presentation and a question and answer session. Torres’ visit was sponsored by General Studies, the Department of English, and the Gallaudet University Press, which published Signing in Puerto Rican. The book is available for purchase on the press website.

11 May 2011


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