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February 6, 2005

Family moves to U.S. to give deaf son a chance at success

From: Greeley Tribune, CO - Feb 6, 2005

Sherrie Peif, (Bio)
February 6, 2005

As Jesús Rodriguez walks down his high-school hallways, the athlete looks like any other high school student.

His black hair, brown eyes and enticing grin attracts looks from the girls he passes.

Jesús is different, though. The 16-year-old is trilingual.

The University High School student spent the past few years learning English, Spanish and American Sign Language.

Jesús is deaf.

His parents are Mexican immigrants. His teachers only speak English.

But ask the Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, native about his life in America, and he'll tell you he wouldn't ask for anything different.

He's a typical teenager with all the joy and frustration that brings.

He argues with his dad about getting a driver's license, jokes with his friends about girls and spends most of his spare time in training for one sport or another.

None of it would be possible without his parents traveling thousands of miles from their homeland, leaving behind all their friends and family, to give him a better life.

It has been a long road.


Jesús was first diagnosed as being severely deaf at age 2. His parents, Jesús and Angélica Rodriguez, noticed their baby didn't respond to noise. Doctors told the family his premature birth, which caused a jaundice-like disease called icterus, caused the hearing impairment.

They tried to find help in Mexico, driving two hours every afternoon to take their son to a special school for the deaf, but the couple said he was not making progress.

An aunt, who had lived in Greeley once, knew of a special school that helped children with severe hearing loss. Fearing their only child would never succeed, the Rodriguezes explained their situation to Mexican officials and asked for a work permit to the United States.

They were given legal work status and permitted to immigrate to Greeley when Jesús was 7.

For Jesús' father, who worked in the maquiladoras -- the equivalent of a sweatshop -- in Ciudad Juárez, the move would mean more sacrifices.

Unable to communicate with their own child, the parents traveled to another country with an unfamiliar language.

Rodriguez, 42, found a job in Eaton making wood pallets, and his wife, 36, stayed at home and made sure Jesús got to school. She also attended classes to learn sign language and provided child care out of their home for extra money.

Nine years later, with better jobs and many friends and supporters, they are able to laugh at Jesús' antics and celebrate his accomplishments.

They still speak through an interpreter but their emotions when they speak of their son need no translation.

"We took the risk to come here because there were more opportunities and better programs for Jesús," said the misty-eyed father in Spanish. "All of our sacrifices have been worthy. We learned the sign language, too, and now we can communicate much better with our son."


While Jesús is oblivious to most conversations around him, the teenager is the first to speak out when his school is mentioned, crediting his success to University High School faculty and staff.

"All of my teachers have been great," the freshman said through interpreter Sheila Weed. "They have helped me with anything I need. I always have an interpreter with me, and they let me play sports, too."

His parents agreed, adding Jesús has exceeded their expectations.

When he first enrolled, University was a private laboratory school on the campus of the University of Northern Colorado. The family received some discounts and financial help through Greeley-Evans School District 6 but they worked overtime to pay the fees and tuition that were their responsibility.

Jesús' mother said the school has done more for her family than she ever expected.

"They even went home to pick me up to go to the sign-language classes," she said. "We even had a teacher exclusively for the two of us to learn the sign language. We feel very grateful for all that help and support."

The school supplies an interpreter for Jesús to compete in sports and even helped make an appointment for Jesús' physical.

"The relationship with the school, the teachers and the coaches is very good," Rodriguez said. "We never thought it would be that way. We are surprised. We never thought we were going to receive so much help."


While the family credits everyone at the school for Jesús' success, the school has a different story.

Staff members at the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Office at the school call the Rodriguezes a great family that supports every step of their son's education. Jesús' coaches and interpreters say he made his own successes.

Jorge Amaya, Jesús' wrestling coach, said many of the hearing-impaired students who join the wrestling team don't last because of the extra work required to accommodate the hearing loss. That is not the case with Jesús, he said.

"Many of them have been coddled," he said. "So they don't want to work as hard. But this guy is sticking it out. He gets frustrated, but he doesn't give up."

Much of the problem with sports is making Colorado High School Athletics Association officials understand hearing-impaired athletes need to see their interpreters at all times. Interpreters, who must work with the students to develop signs for plays, are on the playing surfaces with them during practice but not during games. The officials must take over.

Allison Haas, who travels with Jesús to all his games, said the communication problems can sometimes frustrate the teen, who also plays football for the Bulldogs.

"It's a part of it because I can't be on the mat with him," she said. "But he is willing to try anything."

Although sports may seem dangerous for the hearing-impaired, Norma Lou Eitemiller, the district's special education administrator, said she cannot ever remember an injury resulting from a hearing impairment.

Greg Pierson, director of University Schools, said the school has always made sure hearing-impaired students are given the same opportunities as everyone else.

"It has never been uncommon to see the quarterback sign plays to the team," Pierson said. "We have had hearing-impaired students on our teams for as long as I can remember."

Haas agreed, adding the athletes are naturally more aware of their surroundings because of their impairment.

"I think they are more aware than people realize," she said.


The Rodriguezes originally worried about their son but said they never imagined how much his life would change by bringing him to America.

"In 10 years, I see him with the future of a good man," his mother said. "He is very focused in his studies and sports. He is going to be a very special person."

Jesús, though, takes life day by day. He talks only about now. He wants to win his first wrestling match, get good grades -- and convince his dad to let him drive.

"I don't know why," the teenager said. "He just says no. Ugh."

La Tribuna reporter Mailyn Salabarria and University High School hearing-impaired interpreters Allison Haas and Sheila Weed contributed to this story.

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