Deaf South Asian Americans: Smita’s Story
Smita Kothari was born and brought up in Mumbai, India. She finished her college degrees in Business and in Education in India, never having had interpreters. Smita moved here two years ago after getting married, and has fantastic stories in comparing how mainstream society regards her, as a deaf Indian American woman, both in India and in the US.
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.
In this video, Smita talks about the frustration of communicating independently in India. Smita is a multi-lingual marvel, but has experienced too many communication breakdowns in India.
Check out her story:
My name is Smita Kothari. I was born in Mumbai and grew up in a hearing family. I became deaf at the age of 4 due to viral fever and chicken pox. I attended a deaf oral school until 4th grade, and then transferred to a mainstream private school without interpreters. I have bachelor’s degrees (B.Com and B.Ed) in Accounting and Deaf Education. I communicate with my family, colleagues, and relatives in Gujarati, Hindi and English while I communicate with Deaf people in Indian sign language. I have used paper and pen to communicate with hearing society. I moved to the United States in September 2011 to be with my American husband and have been living here in Maryland for almost two years.
Currently, I am working part-time in the stock room at a couple of department stores like Abercrombie & Fitch and Victoria’s Secret in Pentagon City Mall, VA. Also, I have a side job as a cook/nanny/housekeeper/babysitter for several Indian families.
It is important to know that South Asian Deaf people come to the US for different reasons. They come here for school, marriage, and work. People who come here for school often do not want to go back to their country. They prefer to stay here, settle down and start a new life in this country and adopt American culture. They face many struggles in different situations, but achieve their goals.
Deaf culture in the US and India are as different as sky and earth. Indian society, including my relatives, lacks awareness about Deaf culture and lives. They think that Deaf people can’t do anything, e.g., they can’t obtain higher degrees and get good jobs. They think Deaf people can’t travel alone out of state using public transportation, because they assume Deaf people can’t communicate. They also think Deaf people can’t drive a car or ride a bike. Hearing people believe Deafness is a sin or bad karma from a previous life. They often consider Deafness to be a Handicap. When I completed high school and pursued a college degree, my family did not allow me to complete the degree nor travel out of town. When I completed my bachelor’s degree and worked at a Deaf school in Indore, Madya Pradesh (outside of Mumbai), and when I flew to Malaysia and Sri Lanka for Deaf International Camp with young Deaf adults with principal, my family were shocked that I could do anything except hear. One more thing – my family was shocked that out of my relatives, I was the one who married an American and flew alone from India to the US.
When I work as a cook for several Indian families, they communicate with me via paper and pen because they are already aware about Deaf culture in the US. They are a bit different from my husband Sagar’s relatives, who think we are both handicapped, even though some of his cousins know a little bit of American Sign Language and fingerspelling. Sagar and I do not feel that our deafness is a handicap. We can do everything except hear. I wish that they would be more aware of our culture and also the people of India.
**Special thanks to: Wanette Reynolds, Frank Griffin, Stephanie Durand, and Amber Marchut for their help with this project!