The Power of ASL
A Society Supporting Language, Literacy, and
Performing Arts in the Signed Modality
A Newsletter of the Society for American Sign Language
Modern Outposts of History’s Martha’s Vineyard
By Paul Moreau and Roman Pizzacalla
This past November Dr. Samuel J. Supalla delivered the first public performance of his new
literary work, Martha’s Vineyard: An Epic in American Sign Language in St. Catharines, Ontario. The
event was hosted by the American Sign Language Community of Niagara in collaboration with the
Deaf Culture Centre, a national arts organization in Canada.
When we initially invited Dr. Supalla to perform for our community, we suggested he might like
to perform his past work. To our surprise and delight, he proposed a brand-new performance instead.
Incidentally, the themes that Dr. Supalla explores in his new piece about Martha’s Vineyard were an
excellent fit for our Niagara community. Just as Martha’s Vineyard was a place where, as Nora Groce
famously put it, “everyone here spoke sign language”, we too have a place where everyone here
speaks sign language.
However, this place is not a replica of Martha’s Vineyard. Not everyone here speaks sign
language. Niagara is not a place where people, Deaf, and hearing alike, might engage in public and
private life using a signed language; rather, most people here speak English as their first and only
language and we who sign are in the minority. In that way, there is nothing particularly notable about
our community. Scattered across the Niagara Peninsula’s rural, suburban, and urban landscapes, our
community is in many ways similar to most small North American communities. So, in what way can
communities like ours be similar to the Martha’s Vineyard of the past? It is in this way: when we, as
signing people, Deaf and hearing alike, gather together to exchange ideas, share stories, and pass on
traditions in our shared signed language.
From 1960 until the late 2000s, Niagara had a local Deaf club, the Niagara Association of the
Deaf. When that organization eventually came to an end, it created a void in Niagara’s Deaf collective
life. Several years later, seeking to fill that void and bring people back together, a few Deaf community
leaders came together and established the ASL Community of Niagara. This new organization,
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The Power of ASL
Winter 2018 – Issue 12