By C.C. Ryder and Kimberly Glenn
Two Generations of CODAs, Two Stories, yet Two Different Perspectives . . .
CODA is an acronym for a Child of Deaf Adults. This term was first coined by Millie Brother who also established one of the first CODA support groups. One may ask why a CODA would need a support group. The answer is because CODAs are often isolated. This isolation occurs because CODAs are often pressed into service at a very young age as interpreters for their parents. This responsibility does not always allow a CODA to socially interact with same-age peers in situations outside the Deaf Community. This inability to fully interact with others of the same age often facilitates difficulties with finding commonalities with peers. Additionally, many CODAs rarely meet other CODAs outside the Deaf Community.
There are both positive and negative aspects of CODAs serving as their parents’ link to the hearing world at such a young age. On the positive side, CODAs often become great communicators. On the negative side, CODAs must often translate subjects not normally intended for a child’s ears. Another positive and/or negative aspect for CODAs, depending on the situation, is interpreting parent-teacher meetings. Needless to say, CODAs learn very quickly how to filter certain aspects of the conversation. CODAs are also bilingual and this aspect of interpreting gives CODAs an advantage in multicultural understanding.
There are a number of stories that CODAs can share: some positive, some negative. As a result, some CODAs fully immerse themselves in the Deaf Community by becoming interpreters or Deaf activists while others distance themselves from the Deaf world. I identify with the latter as an unwilling CODA.
I was initially an unwilling CODA, but the older I become, the more I find myself somewhere in between. I come from a generation of CODAs that preceded Deaf awareness, equal access laws, and the ‘monster’ TTY. My first language was sign language. I had my first land line, which was a rotary phone, at the age of eight, although I had already been interpreting for my parents well before the land line was even installed.
My generation of CODAs was exposed to the ignorance and misunderstandings of the hearing world regarding the Deaf Community, and we were often taught that we were deaf too. As a result, CODAs often felt caught between two cultures because although we grew up deaf, we are hearing. Often, it was difficult to reconcile these two distinctly opposite identities. There were many times I felt a sense of guilt for betraying my deafness simply because I wanted to be a part of the hearing world as well. There were times I felt the pressure and burden of keeping my parents safe from dangerous situations that they could not hear, such as burglars, smoke alarms, honking horns or having to protect them from insensitive remarks and comments made by hearing persons who assumed that everyone in the family was Deaf because we all signed.
Although my experience as a CODA may have not been ideal, it has, in part, created the person I am today. The skills I learned as a CODA have helped me to accomplish many things in life, and I am thankful for the experience. So, in retrospect, although I have come full circle with my status as a CODA, I will always identify myself as an unwilling CODA.
Another perspective . . . (from a younger CODA)
I am also a CODA, my parents and brother are Deaf. I have had many experiences growing up when I wished things were different, but I honestly would not change a thing because it has made me who I am today.
There was never a difference between how my parents saw me compared to how they saw my brother. We were both their children. We were treated the same and never differently. My parents would never depend on me when it came to interpreting. They always wanted to make sure they had equal access so they would request for an interpreter, whenever needed. I never really understood why I just couldn’t interpret for them, but as I became older, I realized that my parents knew they should not have to depend on me and I was grateful for that. There were many times when we went to places and people thought I would just simply interpret for my parents, yet my parents still requested an interpreter. While at the time I would have rather avoided the confrontation and just interpret, I let my parents handle it, and before I knew it, people started to understand and requested interpreters.
Growing up as a child, I never really took the time to think about me being hearing and my family being Deaf, but as I became older, I realized that I wished I was more like them and that I could be Deaf too. I feel this way even though my parents and brother have never treated me any differently. I feel that as a hearing person, I am different. It’s a feeling that I can never really explain. It is just a feeling of wanting to be the same as my parents and brother. When I meet new people, they would always tell me, “Oh, that’s cool. I bet you get away with a lot of stuff since your parents can’t hear!” Well, even though that could be true, I would always respond with, “I don’t have to get away with anything. I tell my parents a lot of the things that I do.” It is not something that I ever thought as cool. It is the “what if” that lingers in my mind, such as “What if something happens and I am the only one who can hear it?” or “What if something happens and there is a confrontation because my parents can’t hear?” Even though these are things I shouldn’t think about, these thoughts still cross my mind.
I am a shy person, but growing up I was VERY shy and would let a lot of things roll off of my back to just avoid confrontation. There have been times when I walked through a parking lot with my parents, and a bystander would start talking to them, but when my parents did not respond, the bystander would say some pretty negative stuff. Being as shy as I was, I did not respond to the person but would tell my parents that the person was trying to get their attention. Once the bystander saw that I could hear, that person would look embarrassed and walked away. It was not until I got into high school when I finally would say things back like, “No need to say things like that. Have you ever thought that maybe if they don’t respond, they couldn’t hear you?” I would then get my parents and tell them that a person was trying to get their attention. That would always make the other person feel bad about the negative things that were said.
Growing up, I had friends whose parents were Deaf but also had a hearing sibling, like me. I have yet to meet another person who is the only one who hears in the intermediate family. Even though I have met other CODAs, I never thought to really talk about it. When my CODA friends and I hung out, we did not discuss the hearing/Deaf issue. I now wish I had asked others how they felt. Again, growing up, I never really thought about it, but once I became older, I started to think more about it.
At this stage in my life, I hope to meet others who grew up in a similar household to mine, and I want to ask all the questions that have been on my mind. I wonder if other CODAs have wished that they were Deaf and how they felt growing up. I want to relate to others and see things from their perspective. I hope CODAs today will get together with other CODAs, just to talk and share about their experiences as CODAs. Everyone has different experiences and opinions, and it is good to share while looking at things from a different perspective. Shared knowledge and experiences is better than dealing with “what if’s.”
These two CODAs share a wealth of rich experiences that they would not have had if they did not grow up with Deaf parents. While one struggled more with having Deaf parents and having to interpret, the other did not have to interpret and did not think twice about being the only hearing person in an all-Deaf family. Their formative years were vastly different, which affected their feelings towards the Deaf Community and their identity development. While hearing, they came to terms with their Deaf connection in different ways and at a different stage in life. While being a CODA can be a challenge at times because of bridging the hearing and Deaf worlds, these two CODAs recognize the importance of communication, both spoken and signed, and the delicate balance of sharing information without filtering or deciding for the Deaf parents. It is so easy to withhold negative auditory information because of not wanting to hurt the Deaf parents, but the interplay of hearing and Deaf identities demand that their Deaf parents be treated equally and not be sheltered from people’s ignorance or rudeness. Many of these CODAs become the Deaf Community’s allies and advocates because of their understanding of the two cultures and languages, but they are also still human beings who are trying to forge their own path. “Who am I?” they often ask, and they are both hearing and Deaf, identified as CODAs, whether willing or not.