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Interview with Karthik Sethuraman

Karthik Sethuraman was born in Madras, and moved to Oklahoma City at the age of 20. He has also lived in Las Crucs, NM and most recently, Los Angeles, CA. He grew up communicating in Tamil and English with family and friends in India. He learned American Sign Language after moving to Oklahoma City, when a pastor approached him and drove him to church to meet other deaf persons in the community. Currently Karthik works as an IT Specialist in Washington, DC.

Interview, editing, transcription and translation provided by Sarika Mehta

Date: November 2012
Subject(s): Karthik Sethuraman
Language: American Sign Language (ASL)
Creator: Sarika Mehta
Location: Washington, DC

I grew up communicating only by speech [oral method] until I moved here [to the US] when I was 20. I started learning how to use the TTY (teletype communication device) relay services. At first, I was resistant to learn how to sign, because the way I grew up everyone always used their voices with me, including my own parents. I was under the impression that signing was bad and English was good. Like, “if you speak well, you can be ‘as hearing as possible’.” The goal was to try to do things the hearing way, communicate like hearing people, and I really struggled with that. When I moved here, I was still intuitively against signing, and then I slowly started meeting people. Deaf people have rights here. They have many possibilities and opportunities here. It's wonderful! They have a positive outlook, clear communication, language. So I just embraced it, immersed in the language and picked it up pretty fast hanging out with mostly Deaf Americans.

Before I moved here, while I still lived in India, I always primarily identified myself as Tamil. That’s it. I didn’t think of myself as Deaf. First Tamil, then Indian. So, now that I’ve moved here, I do feel like I’m an American, but at the same time I’m an immigrant. And I strongly identify myself this way. I’m an immigrant! Then secondly an American. I do relate to American values. I observe their beliefs, and generally agree with those beliefs. As far as my Deaf identity, that might be third or fourth after Immigrant and American, because I hold more “Immigrant beliefs” such as making a life here by working hard and not being lazy. American beliefs are things like “freedom for all,” no group can be oppressed, and thinking outside the box, being more creative, etc. The Deaf part comes in more with communication issues. For example, suppose I’m talking to someone and we might agree on a number of things, but we can’t communicate so I wouldn’t know until a Deaf person shows up. Otherwise I don’t really think about it.

I feel that Deaf culture is really more like “white Deaf culture”. It’s about their beliefs, their rights, their way. They really aren’t concerned about people like us, people of color. It’s more like they ignore us. They’re not interested… well, maybe half are very interested. The other half are more like “haha, funny name.” There’s not really respect, so I don’t feel any bond with them either. I guess I’m not interested in any relationship either, because they have their own customs and their own way. Sometimes I feel like they have so much animosity against hearing people, and I’m not really concerned with that. We live in the hearing world and in the deaf world. This strife between the two – just let it go, move on. So I don’t feel that I’m part of the Gallaudet Deaf culture.

Donor: Sarika Mehta
Item History: 2013-07-09 (created); 2016-08-16 (modified)

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