Deaf South Asian Americans: Sagar’s Story

Screen Shot 2013-07-10 at 1.01.44 PMSagar Kothari was born and brought up in Poughkeepsie, NY to Indian parents, who immigrated to the US fifty years ago. Sagar is very proud of all of his identities: Indian, American and Deaf. And he shared many experiences about understanding these identities and relationship building with hearing South Asians.

This is another video in a series of stories I’m collecting, documenting the experiences of the Deaf South Asian American community in Washington, DC. These stories are a part of the permanent collection with the South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA). While these experiences do not represent the entire community, they certainly offer some insight. We chatted last November, at Gallaudet University’s Linguistics Department.

There is an unfortunate lack of relationship between hearing South Asians and deaf South Asians. Both communities share so much in common, but unfortunately there is a divide between the two. While sometimes the reasons for this are about deep cultural divides, sometimes they are about something as simple as technology, patience and understanding. This video, a short anecdote from Sagar, tells a simple example of frustrations with communicating through a VRS (video relay service) interpreter and how this adds to the lack of common ground.

Check out Sagar’s story:

Sagar’s bio:

My name is Sagar Kothari.  I was born and grew up in Poughkeepsie in upstate NY and mainstreamed in public schools.  Starting in Fall 1994, I attended Gallaudet University in Washington, DC for 4 and 1/2 years and majored in biology. After graduation, I went straight to grad school in NYC in 1999 and majored in molecular and cell biology and then went to another graduate school in Boston in 2003 and studied bioinformatics.  In 2005, I moved to Maryland for a job and have been living here for 8 and 1/2 years now. I’m a molecular biologist and a bioinformaticist.

My parents, originally from India, moved to the United States over 50 years ago.  I’m a first generation American-born Indian, and I’m the only Deaf person in my entire family.  While there are many hearing ABCDs in USA, I think there are VERY few Deaf ABCDs out there, while the majority of Deaf people of Indian descent in the US hail directly from India.

I would like hearing people in the South Asian community to be more aware about the Deaf South Asian community and how we communicate in American Sign Language.  We are able to function in many things except to hear.  I want hearing people to be more aware about relay services whenever a deaf person makes a phone call via VP or TTY. My problem is that after 38 years of life, I have started to realize that hearing people still view me as an handicapped person when I have never felt that way all my life.   I want people (including my hearing relatives!) to know my story because it is time to increase their awareness about the Deaf community.  Once they understand about our Deaf culture and our communication, they would understand our needs better. Then we would be able to develop a good bond with each other rather than alienate each other and remain ignorant.

**Special thanks to: Wanette Reynolds, Frank Griffin, Stephanie Durand, and Amber Marchut for their help with this project!