Humanities series celebrates voices less heard

April 14, 2012

Although it was silent, a powerful message was delivered Wednesday evening at Columbia Center for the Arts.

"I can't hear, but I can feel a connection to these words because I can see them in my head," Oregon School for the Deaf senior Max Dexter said through an interpreter. "I hear them through my eyes and my body."

Dexter, classmate Ben Mendez and teachers Robert Rich and Gayle Robertson, all from OSD in Salem, were in town this week for the second round of the 2012 Spring Humanities Series. The four-part series, presented by Columbia Gorge Community College and Gorge Literacy, is in its ninth year running, and the theme for this year is "Voices Less Heard."

"We always try to have a theme to bring the community together to talk and think about certain issues," said Susan Lewis, CGCC instructional coordinator. "This year's theme is about hearing voices that don't always have the opportunity to be heard, and to go out and look for these voices, rather than just wait for them to come to us."

Dexter and Mendez both participated this year in the high school Poetry Out Loud competition. As champion of OSD, Dexter advanced to the state competition, where he used American Sign Language to perform memorized poems against other high school students who verbally executed their poems.

The two students performed poems they had memorized for the competition. They then explained to the audience how they interpreted the poems from written words into American Sign Language, which, as opposed to the mechanical, word-for-word function of Signing Exact English (SEE English), is a visual-spatial language that uses the entire body and facial expressions to communicate.

"I'm deaf and I sign; that's my language and that's normal," Rich signed.

"The theme this year came about because of the anniversary of the We Speak project," Lewis said. "It has been 20 years since the murals were created, but I think the message is still the same."

The series continues at the arts center on April 18, 7 p.m., with a presentation about the "We Speak" mural project that was created 20 years ago by a group called ALANA (Asians, Latinos, African and Native Americans for Justice and Peace). The project was created in response to the 500-year anniversary of Christopher Columbus' arrival to the continent, with the idea that art has the power to build community, educate, empower and inspire the public, and that cultural traditions can flourish in spite of repression.

Artists produced 14 large mural panels, which are on display at a variety of locations in Hood River, White Salmon and The Dalles from April 2 to 30.

The April 18 event will include discussions with three of the artists who created the murals 20 years ago.

Four of the mural panels are on display in Hood River through the month, at 10 Speed Coffee Company, Hood River Bagel Company and the Columbia Gorge Community College Hood River campus. Mural maps are available at Columbia Center for the Arts, 215 Cascade Ave.

The final event of the series will take place at 7 p.m. April 25, at The Dalles Civic Auditorium, with stories and discussion by author Francisco Jiménez, who is the subject of this year's Hood River County Reads project. Dr. Jiménez, now a professor at Santa Clara University, is the award-winning author of such books as "The Circuit," "Breaking Through" and "La Mariposa."

As part of HRCR project, Jiménez will hold two separate presentations, both open to the public. The first will be in Spanish, April 22, 2 p.m. at Mid Valley Elementary School. The second, in English, will be April 23, 7 p.m. at the Hood River County Library.

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