Culture

What Does the Sun Sound Like?


Guest Blogger • Feb 20, 2009

By Jane Beckett

That question, asked of Arlene Malinowski, the hearing child of deaf parents by her father when she was 12, conveys the cultural distance between deaf and hearing people, even sometimes between parents and children. It’s also the name of Malinowski’s one-woman show recently hosted by Victory Gardens Theater as part of its CripSlam series, part of the Access Project, a multi-faceted collaboration between playwrights, producers and directors, performers, and audience members with and without disabilities.

Like children who grow up experiencing the tension between immigrant and US-born realities, or between minority and minority cultures, Malinowski had to learn how to create her own identity, by trial and error. She tells and re-enacts stories from her childhood that are funny, sad, instructive, and above all, fascinating, in English and American Sign Language. Her love for her parents and for the “Deaf Club” where deaf adults and hearing children shared warmth and solidarity are the platform that supports her amazing performance.

The helpful 8-year old who translates for her parents (not entirely truthfully) at a parent-teacher meeting – this is before the days of e-mail, TTY telephones, or even readily available interpreters — grows into a resentful 12 year old who wishes her parents were like other parents. Breaking away at 18, she hilariously argues her readiness for independence by reminding her parents that she negotiated an FHA mortgage, with points, so that the family could buy a home. But as a woman approaching 30, she’s still tied in knots about another kind of negotiation – the unintended double entendres that make her fiance’s first meeting with her parents into a three ring circus of misunderstandings. Finally, at a meeting of the organization Children Of Deaf Adults, Arlene finds, for the first time, a group that has shared her experiences, her conflicts, and her dual-culture heritage.

Though “What Does the Sun Sound Like” has closed its nationwide tour, Arlene Malinowski is preparing both a memoir based on these stories, and also a second installment of her one-woman show. Remember her name; her work is a powerful testament to the reality that barriers can be overcome when there’s a will. And check out the Access Project: (http://victorygardens.org/cointent/about/access_project).

Jane Beckett is a Board member with Progress Center for Independent Living, a community-based, nonprofit, non-residential service and advocacy organization, operated for people with disabilities by people with disabilities.
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