Hands & Voices Latino Council Meeting ‘Raising a Multicultural DHH Child’

Written by Catherine Kalchbrenner

I recently had the privilege of attending a Hands & Voices ‘Latino Council’ meeting. The topic for the evening was “ Raising a Multicultural DHH (Deaf/Hard of Hearing) Child”. Although the event used the lens of Latin American families, the ideas shared can be applied to any culture or language. I’ll share some of the speaking points, along with my own experiences raising a dhh child as an immigrant who came to Canada as a young child. 

The panelists were Latin American parents from all over the US and with many different Central and South American backgrounds. They had children with varying hearing levels, modes of communication and identities. The panelists shared how challenging it is to parent children while walking the line of Latino and American; that there isn’t one correct way to do this. We’re all just doing the best we can. 

The speakers acknowledged that sometimes families are needing to navigate learning English and at times ASL (also in an English context). Overcoming language barriers, culture adaptations, and system navigation are just some of the challenges facing new immigrant families. The panel made some excellent suggestions and gave some great advice.

  • We need to start with ourselves, we need complete acceptance of our amazing kids as they are. They are not defined by their hearing levels and will be limitless if we guide them as such.
  • Expose our children to all languages! Spanish and ASL/English from the start. If we have multiple languages, expose them to all of them as soon as we can.
  • Celebrate ALL the holidays. From both our home country and our new country. Culture is not only language, it’s in our food and traditions. Holidays are important.
  • Find our cultural community in our new home. Take our children to events put on by those communities. 
  • The language others use about our children matters! In Latino culture there’s a tendency to “Pobrecito/Pobrecita” /“Oh poor little!” or “El problema que tiene tu hijo”/”The problem your child has with their hearing”. We need to correct and educate! And watch the language that’s being used about our kids and around our kids! 
  • In many cultures it’s not acceptable to talk back/correct our elders but we absolutely need to. We need to educate them in gentle and consistent ways. We need to speak up and set boundaries. 
  • Read/Sign books in both languages. Bilingual books are available in many libraries.
  • Expose our children to music from our home country, let them feel the rhythms and beats of their culture’s music! It’s yet another way to share our culture with them.
  • Seek out elders/families that speak/use both languages. Ask for their advice. 
  • Language is an important way to pass on our culture- we need to speak our native language to our children and not shy away from it. 
  • Other languages allow us to express ourselves in different ways! It’s important! For me personally I know that who I am when I speak Spanish is a bit different than who I am in English- giving our children more tools to express themselves is always a great idea. In their own time, they will choose which tools feel best to them. 
  • Remember that everything you can teach a child with spoken language can be taught in ASL. As with any language, if you aren’t a native user of that language, it will require more effort, but it’s always possible. 

My own views as a Canadian Latina parent of a dhh child have shifted over the years; times have changed and what I believed as a new mom isn’t  the same as what I believe now. I wish I’d exposed my child to even more languages sooner and more often.  My identity as a Latina has grown and with it my yearnings for more connections to my birth country and culture, and wanting to deeply share that with my kids. My own advice to those just starting on this road of raising a multicultural dhh child is to sign, speak, laugh, eat and love in the language you feel your truest self in. Start with that language and work from there! Be bold and unafraid and remember that any language, visual or spoken, is a gift to our kids! We are not only providing ways for them to communicate, but also a path that will allow a connection to their culture(s) and self-identity in the diverse cultural realms they navigate.


For more information:

Hands & Voices Latino Council- https://handsandvoices.org/about/latino-council.html

Kids Care Canada has a few videos about learning multiple languages including ASL:  https://kidcarecanada.org/playlists/language-development/

Resources in Spanish- https://handsandvoices.org/resources/espanol/index.htm

Request for Advocacy Form- https://handsandvoices.org/astra/span-request-form.html

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