Growing Up Deaf by Rose Pizzo

Rose Pizzo (she/her) was born profoundly deaf during The Depression. Her parents were from Italy, and her family was loving and caring (and a bit confusing because two sisters married two brothers and nearly everyone shared a first name, like Frances and Vincent). In her book with brief stories from her life, Growing Up Deaf, she describes going to school, meeting her Deaf husband, raising two children, and the advances in technology that make communication easier.

In the 1990s, all professional photos required you to put your hand delicately on your own face.

My fascination with Growing Up Deaf started early. Many book bloggers look for translated works, and in a way, Pizzo’s memories should count. Because her first language is ASL, and she acknowledges that her English skills are not strong, she signed her life stories to Judy Jonas, an ASL interpreter. Translating and interpreting are not the same thing. Translating is a static text, like words on a page or a famous work that doesn’t change, like the national anthem. Interpreting involves inspecting the signed or spoken language and changing the original language into another language all while considering cultural differences, meaning, tone, etc. A very simplistic example would be the English idiom “you missed the boat” compared to the ASL idiom TRAIN GO SORRY.

The process took a long time for Jonas and Pizzo. While Pizzo signed, Jonas interpreted into a tape recorder. There was an editorial time during which Pizzo and Jonas confirmed that what Jonas said into the tape recorder matched Pizzo’s intention. But then, Jonas discovered that if she wrote down exactly what she recorded, what they had was not a good book. I found this fascinating; the drafting and crafting of a memoir from ASL to English resonated with the writer in me, a writer who wants everything to be correct yet interesting. Instead of using the same word for a sign, Jonas considered other ways a sign could be interpreted. For instance, Jonas explains, if Pizzo signed “Of course” then Jonas might change the writing to “synonyms like ‘naturally,’ ‘sure enough’ or ‘as you might expect.'”

Pizzo’s life story follows a similar trajectory to many D/deaf memoirs I’ve read recently, like working for years to pronounce words instead of learning content and her parents being worried that she and her Deaf husband could not make it on their own, especially with two children. How could they call anyone? How would they know the baby was crying? Could Pizzo’s husband get a job? And yet reading stories from someone born in 1932 highlights generational differences in the Deaf community. Pizzo is grateful that her children interpret for her. Once they get a device that allows her to call for herself, she’s thrilled: “We can do things on our own now and not have to impose on others” (emphasis mine). Today, all Deaf individuals have a legal right to an interpreter for free in many situations.

While Pizzo and other Deaf folks in her community tried to persuade the police department to get a TTY (a device that lets Deaf and hearing people communicate), it isn’t until a hearing person intervenes that the police department agrees. Eventually, the police solicit Pizzo to teach them to use and test the device, and her response is one of thanks: “I feel good the police are concerned about everybody’s safety and they take the trouble to check that the [TTY] system is working.” Much like the history of civil rights for the Black community and the LGBTQ community, civil rights for D/deaf and/or disabled people is real close in that review mirror. As a young woman, Pizzo was grateful that anyone cared about her. At odds with attitudes about equality today, Pizzo never gets angry that she is denied or doubted but maintains a thankful attitude for every small bit of access she is granted. Thus, we have an interesting and valuable addition to the history of D/deaf life in America.

CW: audism

28 comments

  1. Again, you bring up a topic I would have never considered on my own. The difficulty translating ASL into a book and how without interpretation, the context would possibly come out really repetitive. Great review! You’re going to be amazing at your new career one day. You put so much time and effort into understanding every possible aspect, there is no way you won’t be.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Part of me is nervous because the licensing stuff is changing in Indiana, and Michigan and Illinois have much harder-to-earn licenses. Also, my interpreting professor says there isn’t a big Deaf community around here, which makes me wonder if she means Goshen (where the college is) or South Bend (where I live). They are about 50 minutes apart.

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        • I think South Bend is bigger. The tricky thing is there are lots of Deaf people in Chicago, but that’s a different state and thus a different licensing situation. I can just imagine riding the big train that goes between South Bend and downtown Chicago for jobs, but yeah. That’s ahead in the future. There’s also Fort Wayne and Indianapolis, but both are quite a drive to get a full-time job. I think I would like to freelance so I could have a good work/life balance and pay attention to when I’m getting overwhelmed, but I need to know more about my options.

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          • I always feel better about things when I have several back up plans. Which I am always formulating every time something changes in our lives. Freelance would probably be lovely.
            I’ve been to Fort Wayne once. I wasn’t overly impressed, but I was only there for a few hours. We drove there to get Rob a more affordable MRI when he was sick, and we didn’t have insurance.

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            • I try to be cautious about my feelings on back-up plans because I always assume that I am simply prepared, like a Girl Scout, and avoiding bad things. The issue is when those back-up plans fall through, I have a tendency to want to melt down and feel like the whole world is an unpredictable slop bucket. Basically, when am I being prepared vs. when am I feeding my anxiety.

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  2. Wow, so very fascinating how the book was written. Is Pizzo’s English good enough that she was able to read and approve what was written? And what a challenge for Jonas. Pizzo sounds like an amazing person.

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    • Based on the intro in the book, it sounds like they confirmed intention through ASL. However, it does say that Pizzo read through the transcripts carefully, which were written word-for-word from Joans’s verbal translation into a recording device. I know idioms can be especially challenging! It says Pizzo was careful to determine if Jonas had “captured both her intentions and the facts of her story.” So, maybe she felt limited by her English in telling her story, but was able to read the English and confirm its accuracy?

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  3. This would be a fascinating book even without the information about how it was created. I hear stories of how people overcame difficulties in their lives and feel humbled at the minor things I grumble about.

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    • One thing I’m not really focusing on but am aware of when I read memoirs by D/deaf people is how flexible they are. They leave home for school for months at a time, or they don’t have the necessary accommodations at home to communicate with the family they love. People like to hover around them and worry about how they could possibly survive, which is exacerbated when D/deaf folks get married and have children. I’ve read memoirs in which Black Deaf people are doubly judged. And the way the people I’ve read about just keep moving ahead, just keep adapting and living, both through frustration and joy, makes me realize how easily I fall down sometimes.

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  4. You say Pizzo’s first language was ASL, but you don’t say if English was her second, or in fact her third, after Italian (or the Italian dialect that was her parent’s first language).
    Lots of people of course are not confident expressing themselves in writing – hence ghost writers. I am reading a ghost written memoir right now, from the pen of Australian blogger Michelle Scott Tucker, and she has discussed that issue of converting speech into ‘good’ writing.

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    • Oooh, good eye, Bill. I don’t remember seeing any mention of her learning Italian, though with family straight from Italy I would assume someone spoke it.

      You’re right about folks feeling hesitant about writing regardless of their language. Yesterday, I was reading comments from a ghost writer about how he/she doesn’t necessarily want his/her name on the cover of the book (the conversation was about whether ghost writers get mad that they aren’t given credit). The ghost writer noted that while he/she can make the writing sound pretty, it’s impossible to fix a story with bad plot holes and cardboard characters, because the author is happy with what was written, even if the ghost writer would not be proud of it.

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  5. This sounds fascinating, and the stuff about interpreting equally so – presumably that was in the introduction. I enjoyed your notes about ghost writers, too. I work with ghost writers, capturing the subject’s voice from their tapes into text before the ghost writer writes the book, and I’ve been cross when my client hasn’t been acknowledged, only for them to say no, the person was so dreadful and came across so even when they’d written it that they didn’t want their name on it!

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    • Liz, have you ever thought about writing a memoir? You have some of the most diverse work experience I’ve encountered, and I’m curious about how challenging it is to age and change careers and jobs (something I’m trying to do myself!) plus running and all the things you’ve discussed about your mental health.

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      • Well I wrote about changing careers in my two main books on self employment (under Liz Broomfield, my maiden name) but a memoir would a) be dull, I feel, and b) attract attention from my birth family, which is why I’m more open commenting on other people’s blogs than my own! But think you for the vote of confidence!

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        • Ooooooh, I know what you mean. You never know if family members are reading, which family members, etc. I still think it would be interesting. You’re one of those women that seems like a direct product of 80s culture: do it all, have it all, and change as you age.

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          • My goodness, that has really shocked me, that that’s how I might come across. I have no children, for a start. And I am very low maintenance and anti consumerism. I see myself as a product of early 90s slacker and last wave feminism culture, do enough to get by, you can be what you want to be and go it alone, make your own chosen family, you have a responsibility to help others and stand up for those less fortunate, and to understand other people’s cultures. My books are very much about how you don’t have to go gung ho into business but do it on your own terms, then reach down and raise others up. I have rejected the Thatcherite no such thing as society, stamp on others to push forward and surround yourself with status symbols way that was around as I was growing up.

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  6. Oh, that question of interpretation and translation is one I’d never considered like that. I guess I would have assumed that someone who is Deaf would simply write down words in the same way I would. But of course if you’ve never heard a language then your interaction with it will be completely different.

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    • There are Deaf people who do not learn English. I notice it especially when I don’t know a sign and I try fingerspelling at a Deaf person (using the ASL alphabet to spell an English word) and they don’t know what I’m saying. ASL uses a lot of description. One lesson I learned in Interpreting class is that instead of simply signing 9/11 (the event) you would likely describe it as something like, “You know, two tall buildings, plan crash, building crumble, 9/11.” Why? I’m learning that the language is descriptive. Also, if someone is too young to remember 9/11, or maybe even if they didn’t learn much about it at the time because they didn’t see the events interpreted in ASL, then they may not understand just “9/11.” The Deaf friends I’ve made are all very different. One knows very little English, another went through public school with hearing children and knows a lot of English. Some folks go on and earn Master’s degrees, and others work in factories or as artists and don’t use English. Etc. It’s such a variety. One thing to keep in mind that helps me? ASL is based on French, not English.

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      • Whoa, I had no idea ASL originated from French! That does kind of change my perception of how people might learn and understand it.

        I do find it fascinating the way that different signs used in ASL can tell a person about the speaker and their attitudes. The example I always think of is that apparently there are two signs people use for Donald Trump (did you tell me this?) and which one you use is a pretty good indicator of where your politics lie.

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  7. Hmm so true, translation and interpretation are so different! I think that’s why I’m always so impressed to read translated works, because it’s almost like it’s had to be re-written entirely. The translation from one language to another requires an artist. I’ve actually had translators write to thank me for mentioning them by name when I review translated books on the blog or radio b/c they rarely get mentioned, but I’ve always felt their work should be recognized.

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    • Oh, cool! I love that people reach out to you! I’ve only been reached out to a few times, and it’s been ages because I don’t accept reviewer copies anymore. I need to get through my own TBR of owned books, which seem stuck at around 180. Maybe in the future I’ll get back to books sent to me by authors, but I’ve also had a few bad experiences that left a bitter taste in my mouth. Saying things like, “I didn’t think you were that kind of person” when I included one small criticism in my review, or stalking me for months on every online platform I use. What fun! But I do miss hearing from authors and getting to know them myself (most of the Meet the Writer features I’ve posted lately are sent to me by a publicist and I never talk to the author. Which I’m not sure I want to do anymore).

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  8. Idiom is really interesting! I was talking with one of the student interns on a project I’m working on recently about idiom – her first language is Arabic and I think she’s only been in the UK a couple of years. Her English is excellent but she’s still a bit unsure using idiom. Idiom is also confusing for me because of the autism, but because I’ve read so many books in English I’ve learnt most common idioms in British English, though I still get them muddled sometimes. We were discussing the fact that “on the clock” and “to the minute” don’t mean the same thing in English, which it seems like they should (and apparently they do mean the same thing in Arabic)! Very interesting.

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