IM this article to a friend!

October 19, 2004

RIT's deaf Hispanic students share their cultural ties

From: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, NY - Oct 19, 2004

Greg Livadas
Staff writer

(October 19, 2004) — Even though they have diverse backgrounds — some were born in Argentina, Colombia or the Dominican Republic — about 30 students at Rochester Institute of Technology meet regularly to discuss something they have in common: a passion for Hispanic culture. The fact that they have a hearing loss also helps members of the Hispanic Deaf Club, at RIT's National Technical Institute for the Deaf, feel a common bond.

"I feel that they are one of my family," said club president Julissa Perez, 24, of Philadelphia. Some of her best friends are in the club, and she enjoys speaking her native Spanish with them.

"I like the history and the culture," said Iris Ureña, 23, of Miami. "I'm a student in college, I don't have family here. I feel better when I come here. I feel like I belong."

At a meeting after classes last week, the club's executive board met to discuss plans about one of their biggest events of the year, Hispanic Deaf Awareness Week, on campus from Oct. 25-29. Using American Sign Language, they talked about their plans to display flags from various Hispanic countries, offer desserts such as ice cream and flan, provide salsa dance lessons and give people a chance to swing at a piñata.

The experience also has enabled club members to learn about their own family customs.

Kelly Lenis, 27, of Brooklyn "grew up in a deaf school in New York City" and said she missed out on family traditions.

"It's time for me to learn about my Spanish heritage and culture," Lenis said.

"Growing up, I was never exposed to the Hispanic culture. I just thought of myself as deaf," said Nicolas Tegni, 22, of New City, Rockland County.

NTID's Hispanic Deaf Club, now in its 10th year, is one of about five recognized minority associations at the college. While RIT also has a similar association for students, "there is a difference because of communications and experiences," said Adrienne Morgan, NTID's multicultural student programs coordinator.

The students say they seldom attend activities off campus, other than to visit restaurants offering their favorite foods. Community festivals are most often held in the summer, when students aren't in school, Morgan said.

But some students attend national conferences to learn more about their culture and to network with others.

"There is a need for that," Morgan said. "They'd like to have more role models. They don't have that connection every day."

For more information about NTID's Hispanic Deaf Club, visit

Copyright 2004 Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.