How we take for granted the sound of a voice! Yet we know its power. We know in case of an emergency crying out “Fire!” is likely to get someone’s attention. But what happens when there’s an emergency and there’s no voice to alert anyone?
Estela Lopez and I look at each other in silence.
She’s beautifully made up for our interview. We are alone at her home. She smiles at me. I smile back. Her lipstick is fuchsia. But beyond that, we can’t communicate
“We just got notification from Jessica that they are just about all set on their end,” Kate Pascucci says.
Estela is deaf and mute and Pascucci is facilitating our conversation. We’ll be talking through interpreters. I’ll need my iPad and an app called Stratus Video.
A man in an orange sweater appears on my iPad screen. A woman’s voice says, “Hi, there.”
At first, I’m a little confused – my eyes see a man but my ears hear a woman. She calls the man “a CDI,” certified deaf interpreter.
Like Estela, our interpreter is deaf, but he specializes in communicating with people like Estela. She’s not just deaf – she’s also mute and illiterate. Estela grew up poor in Mexico and never attended school.
She never learned how to sign – not in Spanish while she lived in Mexico and not in English, now that she’s in Texas. Instead, Estela communicates—or at least tries to communicate through “home signs, “a kind of self-invented language of gestures for which there’s no alphabet or common set of rules. Yet the man in the orange sweater is fluent in her language. He knows how to decode the gestures that make up Estela’s only vocabulary.
On my iPad screen, there’s also my interpreter.
The man in orange interprets for Estela by relaying all messages to my interpreter, who in turn voices them for me.
And so the conversation begins.
Estela starts with the story of why she’s blind in one eye.
“So, what happened was that my husband started to hit me and I called the police at that point,” she says. He was drunk.
He beat her with a metal rod and stabbed her in the stomach with a knife.
“My husband turned on our gas stove and then took my head and forced it into the flames,” Estela says. Her face trembles as she tries to mouth the words.
By the time the police arrived, she was a bleeding mess. “There was no way for me to communicate clearly with the police when they came,” she says.
Police never filed a report. The abuse and the beatings – no one did anything to help. Estela’s hands stop moving. For the first time, her story has found a voice.
Estela had tried to draw pictures of what had happened. Her injuries are documented in medical records. But since police couldn’t understand her and no police reports were ever filed, she’s never had the paperwork to demonstrate that the violence was real and she tried to stop it.