Deaf Immersion: Attending The MATA Expo
A flood of nerves had washed in as we pulled up to the Pomona Fairplex. We didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t know if we were going to be lost the entire time. We weren’t sure if we would be able to hold a conversation with anyone that was there. As we approached the building at the fairgrounds, we took a deep breath before we entered.
I walked up to the first table that I saw with my ticket in hand and held it up to the man ripping off everyone’s stubs. I kept my hand out for the stamp that was being given. Without a word the man motioned for me to turn over my hand to expose my forearm. I did, and he left a black smudge on my skin. I walked forward and waited for my sister and a friend to get through the ticket line behind me.
“I was afraid that I was going to have to start signing right away,” my sister said. We were asked to attend a Deaf event in the area for our ASL class. We ended up choosing to go to the MATA expo and meet up with some people in the Deaf community.
“Yeah, me too,” I responded. “They just took my ticket and stamped my arm without saying anything.”
We looked up from our stamps over the left and ended up spotting our Deaf Studies professor. She too was Deaf and promised us that there would be interpreters in attendance walking around. We waved and walked over to our professor where she was managing an American Sign Language (ASL) workshop.
She signed hello and let us know that some of our other classmates had already arrived. My professor for our Deaf Studies course had brought one of her friends in who was Deaf to speak about his life and to share his involvement in the MATA Expo.
He told us about how he put the event on and why this international event, that was held on Saturday, November 10th at the Pomona Fairplex, was such an important event for the Deaf community. For many members of the Deaf community, the event was an opportunity to catch up with old friends, immerse themselves in a welcoming Deaf-friendly environment full of signing people, and a chance to just have fun without having to worry about whether they would be excluded from anything or not have access to information.
Our professor didn’t have any interpreters there at the time, so she took her time slowly signing to us. I noticed the majority of our class was standing around behind the row of seats faced towards the ASL workshop our professor was holding. We recognized the speaker who was both voicing and signing at the same time as one of the speakers who visited our class to teach us about Deaf art.
We ended up spending the next fifteen minutes or so playing the elephant game during the workshop before we made our round to the various vendors. Without moving our mouths, for the majority of the time that we were there, all three of us made an effort to communicate only using ASL. When we shopped for T-shirts, we scraped the back of brains to retrieve the ASL 1 signs we learned in order to ask for the smaller sizes. We ended up signing quite a bit and were reminded of all the Deaf cultural facts that we had learned in class.
We noticed that the venue wasn’t completely quiet, but that it wasn’t as loud as an event that you would have until hearing people until they turned on the music towards the end of the event.
Bass from the stereos shot out with so much intensity that you could sense the music playing before even hearing it. The floor rumbled to the heavy beat of the popular hip-hop song. I looked around at some of the unphased Deaf people continuing with their conversations. Some people danced near the speakers, while all the hearing people I had run into that day were near the front door exit which was the farthest point away from the where the music had originated.
Before we left our professor introduced us to her friends who had partnered with us on a Video Relay Service (VRS) project that we had just completed. The assignment was to call one of her friends using the device and have a conversation. We were asked to record our thoughts and then possibly meet them at the expo. My sister ended up finding her partner in the crowd with the help of her boyfriend who was also Deaf. We all chatted with the two of them. They slowed down their signing speed significantly, and my sister’s VRS partner used a lot of Signing Exact English (SEE) and Pidgin Signed English (PSE) so that we could catch on to what she was saying. American Sign Language (ASL) is not English on the hands and therefore takes time and practice to pick up. However, because of its differences from spoken English, ASL is its own unique language.
The two talked about the grandchildren that they each had and were interested in hearing about the preschool class my sister taught. We ended up leaving a little of three hours after we had arrived so that we could get our friend home on time, but what we all took away from this experience was a feeling that we could make our way in the world of the Deaf with the knowledge of ASL that we had acquired. It was definitely encouraging and really fun to be able to use what we had learned in both classes in real life. I don’t feel as nervous now to use what I have learned in my ASL classes and attend more Deaf events in the future.