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.
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.