Deaf Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines Used FSLNovember 8, 2014
Sometime last year, I visited Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. with my relatives. I had an appointment to meet its librarian Ms. Diana Moore. I previously had email communications with her because of her interest to have a copy of “Silent Odyssey,” my documentary on Deaf Filipinos for their library collections.
My relatives wondered how communication would go between me and the Deaf guard. It didn’t bother me a bit that I do not know how to sign ASL [American Sign Language]. Whether I would be understood or not, I used Filipino Sign Language [FSL], visual gestural communication and finger spelling. I was understood. For me, that was a “big” accomplishment since I only have basic knowledge of sign language. It was my first time to “talk” with a Deaf American.
Anyhow, at the time we visited the library, there was an ongoing exhibition of the Peace Corps activities worldwide. They were active here in our country especially in the 70’s. Ms. Moore led us to the exhibition place.
I was surprised to know that FSL was used by some Peace Corps members. I have always believed that they only used American Sign Language primarily because they are Americans. At the time that they started coming here in the 70’s there were no formal studies yet with regards the existence of Filipino Sign Language. I was mistaken in my belief when I read one of the testimonies displayed.Signing Exact English [SEE], the type of sign language Peace Corps volunteers introduced and popularized here is still being taught and is being adopted up to now by Miriam College, and by most schools in the Philippines, especially those that are handled by hearing teachers. However, from the 90’s FSL started to get popularized and is currently being advocated by majority of Deaf Filipino leaders as the natural sign language of Deaf Filipinos. The number of FSL users continue to grow as they become aware of their Deaf identity as a cultural-linguistic minority group.
It took me more than I year before I managed to write about this. I was only reminded again when I saw the photos above as I started looking for my travel files to review the shots for a music video that I am preparing for a family reunion tomorrow. My balikbayan relatives from Maryland who brought us to Washington D.C. are here. So, tomorrow, we’ll have fun reminiscing the long walks we did over there, as well as in Baltimore and Pennsylvania through my travel videos.