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Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Deaf Battle Prejudice in Japan

Karen Nakamura, the author of Deaf in Japan, is a hearing anthropologist who studies minorities in Japan.  She was born in Indonesia, but was brought up in Australia, Japan and the U.S. She speaks English and Japanese as well as signing in both American Sign Language (ASL) and Japanese Sign Language ( JSL).  She currently teaches at Yale.  I found her book while researching an article on JSL in Diversity in Japanese Language and Culture which I reviewed here in July.   Here is what I have to say about Deaf in Japan.

 The cover is difficult to reproduce well.  I sharpened it so that readers could see what the figures were signing.  The best image of the cover was on Nakamura's blog at the Yale University website.

Nakamura brings forward a significant issue in deaf politics by introducing  Ohtsuki Yoshiko, a prominent activist in the Japanese Federation of the Deaf (JFD), who signs and speaks simultaneously so that both deaf and hearing people can understand her.  This type of communication is criticized by the Japanese deaf organization D-Pro.  They consider Ohtsuki Yoshiko as not truly deaf because she communicates orally.  Ohtsuki Yoshiko calls that "sign fascism".  D-Pro also promotes a specific form of JSL that they consider pure and uninfluenced by spoken Japanese.  I find this interesting because it seems to me that cultural purity is a very Japanese preoccupation. Based on my reading, mainstream Japanese society seems to be deeply  concerned with defining what is truly Japanese.  Similarly, D-Pro is concerned with defining what is truly deaf.

 Nakamura points out that the D-Pro focus on purity ignores the fact that all sign languages have dialects and "idiolects". According to Wikipedia  "idiolect" is a term from linguistics that deals with individual language variations.  For more on this topic see Wikipedia on Idiolects . In this context, it means that the way a particular signer communicates is identifiable as the style of signing for that individual.  Nakamura interviewed five Japanese deaf women for this book.  She observed that each of them signed JSL differently.

 There is a generational difference between JFD and D-Pro.  JFD's membership is older while D-Pro has a younger membership. D-Pro has contacts and alliances with deaf organizations outside of Japan.  They consider themselves part of the international deaf movement while JFD members are Japanese identified.

 Those in the JFD remember being considered minors under Japanese law.  They were unable to marry, drive, sign contracts or have legally recognized wills.  This changed in the 1970's.  JFD had a great deal to do with getting the government to recognize the deaf as adults. Another important change is that the government recognized that the deaf could be educated.  Unfortunately, they mandated compulsory mainstreaming.  The few schools for the deaf that existed were shut down.  The Japanese authorities wanted the deaf to be fully integrated into Japanese society.

Deaf activists changed the Japanese government's attitude toward signing in the 1980's. They then put pressure on NHK, the TV network, to broadcast a show that taught signing.  It was called "Signing For Everyone".  I mentioned it in "An Amelioration of Audism in Japan".  It's important to note that a D-Pro member was placed in charge of how signing was taught on "Signing For Everyone". Since D-Pro members have chosen signing as their exclusive means of communication, JSL instruction is of particular importance to them.

Nakamura discusses sign languages other than JSL in Deaf in Japan to show how sign languages have developed internationally.  I learned from this book that ASL and BSL (British Sign Language) are very different, and that neither one is based on English.  Dialects in sign language can arise as a result of  differences between the schools of the deaf where signing is taught. Schools that were segregated by race in the American South have brought about the development of separate dialects of ASL for deaf Southern Caucasians and deaf Southern African-Americans.  I conclude that  if  "Signing For Everyone" has successfully promulgated a single model of JSL in Japan, communication among JSL signers may be improved, but diversity of expression will diminish.

The history of JSL is rather murky.  No one knows when it originated or who pioneered it.  It has no relationship to other sign languages.  My speculation is that Japan's policy of isolation until the Meiji Era has a great deal to do with JSL's uniqueness.   Yamao Yozo, an important figure in Meiji Japan, went to Scotland to study their shipbuilding industry in 1863.  He observed that deaf and hearing employees worked together in the Glasgow shipyards and then wrote a white paper in favor of deaf education in Japan.   The first school for the deaf was founded by Furukawa Toshiro in 1878 in Kyoto. The story goes that Furukawa had been arrested for forging documents to help dispossessed peasants. He saw deaf children signing to each other from the window in his jail cell and was captivated by the possibility of educating them.  In farming communities the deaf were perfectly capable of helping their families in agricultural activities, but in an urban environment such as Kyoto, deaf children were cast off by their families, and could only aspire to become beggars. Furukawa sought to change that.  Unfortunately, an 1880 international conference of deaf educators in Milan backed by oralists, who were completely opposed to signing, influenced deaf schools throughout the world to teach lip reading and ban signing. Since I am aware that the Meiji government was intent on westernizing Japan, they must have decided to imitate the western trend in deaf education as well.  In 1880 Furukawa's school became oralist and JSL went underground until it re-emerged toward the end of the 20th century.

I was shocked to discover the extreme prejudice against the deaf in contemporary Japan.  Nakamura discusses what are called "joint suicides" of mothers and their deaf offspring.  I think it would be more accurate to term these murder-suicides. Japanese mothers have killed their deaf children and then committed suicide.  This happened to a 26 year old deaf activist who was a close friend of one of Nakamura's interviewees.  This young deaf woman moved away from her parents out of fear that she too would be murdered. 

This homicidal prejudice arises from the  belief that the deaf are disabled, and a burden on their families.  The interviewee in the above paragraph who fled from her family is now living independently  There is also mention of the man who became Japan's first deaf lawyer in Deaf in Japan.  I have met deaf professionals myself, so I know that calling the deaf disabled is a lie.  It bothers me that Nakamura buys into this lie especially considering its terrible consequences in Japan.  She categorizes deaf people as disabled throughout the book.  I don't use the phrase "differently abled" just to prove that I am politically correct.  I believe that it is a more truthful description of  the deaf community. 

Deaf in Japan is a well written anthropological study. The life stories of Karen Nakamura's  informants are contextualized through descriptions of the experience of that generation of the deaf.  I think that she doesn't question the disability paradigm in an effort to be a neutral observer. Neutrality  is expected of anthropologists.  I can say that this is a serious flaw because I am not a scholar, and I am not expected to be neutral.  I seek to be a decent human being who does the right thing.  It is the right thing to speak out against prejudice.  Read this book for the information it contains, but consider how different life could be if Japan were a more just society that treated all its citizens as equals. 







Wednesday, August 15, 2012

An Afro-Native Robin Hood

I've developed a fascination with Afro-Natives and have been looking for more material about them. Please see my June reviews for "Is There a Place for Afro-Natives?" and my July reviews for "A Dissertation on Afro-Native Literature". I found The Southeastern Indians Since The Removal Era edited by anthropologist Walter L. Williams on the bibliography of Crossing Waters.

Here are my comments about one of the articles:

"The North Carolina Lumbees From Assimilation to Revitalization" by W. McKee Evans was the article that caught my attention.  I learned from this article  that toward the end of the Civil War, Henry Berry Lowry organized a Robin Hood type band of outlaws that was largely composed of Afro-Lumbees.  The band also contained Union soldiers who'd escaped from Confederate POW camps, runaway slaves and deserters from the Confederate army.  They stole food  from rich planters to distribute to people who were starving.  For a brief You Tube documentary about the Lowry Band view The Real Robin Hood .   Evans says in his article that controversy over the Lowry Band caused terrible divisions in the local Republican party.  A footnote revealed that Evans wrote a book on this subject called To Die Game which I am currently reading.  This seemed like a dramatic historical narrative that would make perfect fodder for a novel or a movie.  There is an unpublished play about Lowry called Strike At The Wind which was performed annually in North Carolina from 1976-2007 when the theatre group ran out of funds.

See the following  web pages for further information about Strike At The Wind:

Historical Background of Strike At The Wind 

Review of Strike at the Wind

 Audio on Strike at the Wind

Photos From Strike At The Wind Performances 

Strike at the Wind on You Tube

   I wish that the text of the play was available in some format.  I'd love to read it.    There is likely to be more about Henry Berry Lowry on The Masked Persona's Reviews in the future.  Discovering a historical Robin Hood figure is a joy to me.



Monday, August 13, 2012

Tara Chevrestt's Woman Zorro

It’s exciting for me to have the opportunity to feature a novel with a masked persona on The Masked Persona's Reviews. Tara Chevrestt’s Maiden Behind The Mask is about a female Zorro.

One of the reasons why I chose this title for my blog is because I am a huge Zorro fan. Zorro is a fictional character created by Johnston McCully in 1919 . As Diego de la Vega he seemed to be a rather decadent Spanish aristocrat, but when he donned his mask he stood up for justice for the downtrodden. Although I am delighted by Zorro movies including the recent ones in which Antonio Banderas plays the hero, I particularly love Isabel Allende’s Zorro, and the Zorro comic book series from Dynamite Entertainment that was based on Allende’s version.

As a feminist, I have longed for a female Zorro. There was a syndicated television series about a female Zorro called Queen of Swords (2000-2001) which I watched faithfully until it was cancelled after one season. So when I found out that Tara had written a female Zorro, I very much wanted to feature Maiden Behind The Mask on my blog.

Here is the cover for the new edition:


 Here is what Tara Chevrestt wants you to know about this book:


When Catalina Rodriguez is attacked by a would-be rapist and rescued by the dashing Ricardo Garcia, she not only becomes more aware of the handsome man, but also vows that she’ll never be a damsel in distress again. Using the timeless method of blackmail, she convinces her uncle to teach her to fight and becomes a masked crusader in the night, saving other damsels from robbers and rough handling.

However, scandalous rumors and dwindling funds force Ricardo and Catalina to marry. Not immune to each other’s charms, their marriage starts fiery, but when one of Catalina’s nightly escapades results in dire consequences, she is forced to spurn her husband’s amorous advances…or reveal a secret that could turn him away from her forever.

Ricardo’s not a man to be cuckolded or left in the dark. Is his wife having an affair with El Capitan, the masked savior? If so…they will both pay.


She tore her gaze away from the mare and said firmly. “Cinco pesos. And only because this yegua has fire, not because of your terms. Selena, pay him.”

Selena’s hand shook, but the pesos were transferred to the dirty palm. The man laughed with glee, the crowd dispersed, and Catalina was left with a dirty, starving horse.

“We shall get you fed and cleaned up.” She patted the mare’s neck. A cloud of dirt rose in the air, and Catalina struggled not to cough. “I shall call you La Reina, because once in my establo, I shall treat you like a queen. Your body may be beaten, but your spirit is not broken.”

“Catalina?” Her maid’s voice was tentative as it interrupted her quiet chattering. “Whatever possessed you—”

“Fetch me a mozo,” Catalina interrupted her. “Take the remaining pesos and fetch me a groom. La Reina is going to her castle.” She wasn’t offering more explanation than that. She didn’t owe anyone an explanation. She’d done what was right.

As her maid turned to comply, heading toward the livery, a loud pffffht rent the air. Catalina stared at her new acquisition in surprise.

Selena froze and swung around to admonish her charge. “Señorita! Your behavior has been questionable enough this day. Mind yourself.” She shook her head and her finger both before turning back to the task at hand.

Catalina heard her muttering as she sashayed away. She was too surprised and too tired to defend herself, but the breeze picked up, and a waft of foul air assaulted her. Catalina immediately tugged a delicate, lace handkerchief from her sleeve and placed it over her nose as she glared at the horse.

La Reina snorted and pawed the ground. Catalina could swear the mare was laughing at her. She merely shook her head. “Dios mío, and you let me take the blame for that?”
Pffffhht. Pfffht.

La Reina whinnied and bared her teeth as though she were smiling.

 Tara's bio note

Tara Chevrestt is a deaf woman, former aviation mechanic, writer, and an editor. She is most passionate about planes, motorcycles, dogs, and above all, reading. That led to her love of writing. Between her writing and her editing, which allows her to be home with her little canine kids, she believes she has the greatest job in the world. She is very happily married.
Tara also writes as Sonia Hightower. Sonia writes the racy stuff and argues that she was here first. She just wasn't allowed to be unleashed until the last year.
While Tara and Sonia continue to fight over the laptop and debate who writes the next book, you can find buy links, blurbs, and other fun bits on their website: or their Facebook page:


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Interview With Tara Chevrestt

I reviewed Tara Chevrestt’s memoir on this blog in June in the entry Discrimination Against The Deaf: Then and Now.  Tara is now re-issuing her memoir. Here’s the new cover:


 I thought this would be a good opportunity to interview Tara, so that she can give her perspective on the issues that she deals with in her memoir.  Please welcome Tara Chevrestt to The Masked Persona’s Reviews.

Shomeret: Why are you re-launching your memoir with a new edition?

Tara: The book is the same, but I feel my new cover is more appealing. It's a memoir. It's about a person. I need to convey that.

Shomeret: Who do you see as the audience for this book?

Tara: The people I'd really like to reach are parents-- parents of hard of hearing children. Perhaps reading my story will help them understand their kids better and foresee the problems their children will face and need help with. The motto, "We'll cross that bridge when we get to it" doesn't always work.

Shomeret: Have you ever been interested in learning ASL? 

Tara: I did take a class. I know the basic words and I also finger spell, but nobody in my family or my working life knew how to sign so...I would have been signing to myself all the time. It's a skill that went unused.

Shomeret: What experiences have you had with deaf individuals who use ASL?

Tara: I had a lady bash me on Goodreads and accuse me of shunning my own people. No, I did not. I chose to go mainstream, not because I was ashamed, but because I got tired of people thinking I was stupid and couldn't do this or that. I wanted to show them all I could do, that I could take the same classes and work the same jobs.

Shomeret:  Have you met any deaf people in real life as opposed to online?

Tara: I knew one deaf lady and we got along okay, but she didn't sign either.

Shomeret:  What about local deaf organizations?

Tara: I have not sought them out, but neither do I seek out people of only Puerto Rican heritage or people with only the same interests as me.

Shomeret:   Maybe a deaf organization could be supportive, or at least give you an opportunity to learn more ASL and practice it. 

Tara: I don’t seek out people of any particular type of background because I think we are all the same. I don't like labels and boxes. If I meet someone and like them, great. It doesn't matter if they are deaf, African American, in a wheelchair, or blonde and blue eyed.

Shomeret:  It’s true that identity politics can cause divisiveness within a community due to restrictive labeling.  I’m all in favor of being inclusive.  How would you define deaf culture and your role within deaf culture?

Tara: I'm not involved. I tried to be. I emailed charities that provided hearing aids to children and offered this book's proceeds. I was put through the wringer, ignored, or just plain told "no." It left a bad taste in my mouth. I wanted to help and instead, I was shunned.

Shomeret: Some writers on deaf topics believe that the needs of lip readers and signers are so different that they could be considered in conflict.  Do you agree? 

Tara: I think that you can do both. As I said above, I know some ASL, but lip reading allows me to communicate with non ASL users. You can speak both English and Spanish.  Why can't you utilize both ASL and lip reading?

Shomeret: I’ve encountered a deaf professional woman who does use both forms of communication.   It’s definitely feasible.  I have a question about phone communication. In your memoir, you tell us about how you lost a job because you couldn't do phone work.  There are now picture phones with captions for the deaf.  Do you have one?  If you do, do you find the captions adequate for your needs? Whether you have one or not, describe for us what your ideal phone would be like.  

Tara: I had a VCO (Voice Carry Over) before they came out with text messaging. Now, I just use texting. I love it. It was a miracle. I just about cried when I got my first cell phone with text messaging.

Shomeret:  Text messaging allows you control over phone communication.  Captions are provided by an intermediary and may not be accurate, but texting lets both parties communicate for themselves whether they are deaf or hearing.  I agree that it’s an excellent solution.   Is there anything else that I haven't asked that you would like your readers to know?

Tara: The reason I put this book out there is that I want readers to stop and think before they judge people with difficulties and be more aware of the hearing impaired. A person's immediate assumption when a person doesn't turn around and acknowledge their words is that they're rude. Maybe they just don't hear you. Hearing loss is an illness people can't see, but it's very there.

Shomeret:  Thank you for being so candid in this interview, Tara.  I will be featuring your other re-issued book, Maiden Behind The Mask soon.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Socially Conscious Magical Realism

 Where do you draw the line between a fantasy novel and the type of literary fiction that is called magical realism? There have been times in the past when I've considered magical realism nothing but a marketing category for writers whose literary snobbery didn't allow them to admit that they were writing in the fantasy genre, and readers that didn't want to admit that they read any fantasy.  Yet I've eventually come to the conclusion that there is a legitimate difference between magical realism and fantasy. 

This is how I currently understand magical realism.  Magical realism is a literary movement that began in the 20th century. In magical realist fiction a supernatural element is introduced into a real world setting.  Such a novel isn't teeming with supernatural creatures as you might find in an urban fantasy novel where vampires, werwolves, demons and zombies may all contend with one another within a single story line.  No, there is only a single manifestation of strangeness. In everything else, the magical realist novel is portraying existence as we know it.

This discussion of magical realism now seems to apply to the novel I've just reviewed for The Bookplex.


The fantasy element in Brant’s Tales Volume 1:Karme  is so small a part of the content that many readers would call this book magical realist.  It does feel like other books I’ve read which have been given that label. 

Although the 1950’s is my least favorite decade, the character of Karme  sounded like an intriguing mystery.  I think that she’s a lightning rod for all the fear of difference during this period.  Other characters in the novel are surprisingly unconventional in their outlook or even their behavior, but Karme is  so obviously outside of  all society’s norms.  It’s easy to scapegoat her.   She considers herself non-human.  It seemed to me that she’s a human being raised in isolation with paranormal abilities of unknown origin.

The social dynamics and intolerance reminded me of another book I reviewed that also took place in a small Florida town.  The events of Fire Angels by Joseph Richardson happened forty years previous to Karme.  Comparing these two novels shows that the attitudes of the majority toward minorities hadn’t really changed in the intervening years. 

The notes in which an older Brant gives us his perspective seem quirky, but appealing to me.  They helped to sustain my interest in the futures of Brant, Karme and others.  I am looking forward to the sequel.


Unknown Civil Rights Figure

Like most people, I'd always thought that Rosa Parks was the African American who first dared to challenge segregation on buses.  I learned from Karme that she had a predecessor.  Irene Morgan was an earlier African American woman who was arrested for sitting in the front of the bus 11 years before Rosa Parks.  Not only this, but her case went before the U.S. Supreme Court which decided in 1946 that segregation on buses was unconstitutional.  See the Irene Morgan Article on Wikipedia.


Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Western From a Lakota Perspective

I'm not really a fan of Westerns, but I did enjoy the few novels that I'd read from The Spanish Bit Saga by Don Coldsmith.  This Western series is from the perspective of Native American characters.  So when Two Bulls, a Western that centers on a Lakota, was offered to me by The Bookplex , I requested it.  My review is below.


This is an evocative novel written in a lyrical style with several sympathetic characters.  I was particularly impressed with the fortitude of Mary, the reluctant frontier wife, and I identified with the Lakota Two Bulls. 

Some would think that D.W. Boyd, a white country-western singer/songwriter, couldn’t possibly create an authentic Lakota protagonist.  I am not one of those people. It has always seemed to me that an author from a different ethnic background than the protagonist of the book needs to do sufficient research and have the gift of empathy.

 Boyd’s portrayal of Two Bulls often uses the stream of consciousness technique.  This means that we are favored with every thought that wanders through his mind.  I believe that the author’s intent is to immerse us in Two Bulls’ world. This is mostly a very effective approach.  Yet I do believe that the depiction of Two Bulls is still not completely successful.  Although Boyd provides this character with a distinctive voice, sometimes he gives Two Bulls thoughts that obviously couldn’t be what someone with his history and background would think.  These occasional anachronistic slips were jarring to me even though they might seem minor to other readers.  One example is “the war between them was more cultural than physical” (emphasis mine).  In 1884, when Two Bulls takes place, the underpinnings of cultural anthropology as we know it today were just beginning to be articulated.  For most Victorian whites, the word “culture” had a different connotation, and it isn’t likely to have been part of the vocabulary of a Lakota grandfather.  Two Bulls would probably have thought of the conflict between white settlers and his people as one of different spirits rather than cultures.

Don’t get me wrong.  I did like this book.  The dilemmas of the characters were quite touching, and Boyd writes about the Western landscape with verve and genuine affection.  


For those who want to find out more about D.W. Boyd, his website is at  D. W. Boyd's Music and Fiction

My research on the word "culture" came from Wikipedia.  I consulted the following articles:

Culture  This article states that in the 18th and 19th centuries, "culture" was a term related to "cultivation". Cultivation of the mind involved reading books and exposing yourself to the arts.  This sort of cultivation is a metaphor that originally referred to agriculture.  The Lakota way of life focused on following the buffalo and hunting them.  They did not engage in agriculture.

Matthew Arnold  This is an article about the man who wrote Culture and Anarchy which popularized the term "philistine" to mean someone who has no interest in the arts or understanding of them.  A "philistine's" mind is uncultivated. Those who've read the Bible are aware that the Philistines once populated the coast of Palestine. There were no Philistines in Victorian England to protest Matthew Arnold's portrayal of them. Arnold was a well-known essayist in Victorian times. 

Edward Tylor   This is an article about a man whose work led to the development of cultural anthropology.  His book Primitive Culture did appear in 1870, but only scholars would have been likely to have read it.