Sign language builds connections and community

By True Colors Festival Team

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September 23, 2022

This International Day of Sign Languages, sign language interpreters Danny Gong and Amber Galloway Gallego tell us why sign language is so vital for the Deaf — and for the hearing.

Danny Gong is a certified sign language interpreter and founder of DeafJapan. Being an ethnic minority growing up in America and being a Child of Deaf Adults (CODA) left him doubly marginalized.

Danny’s parents, who immigrated to the US in the 1980s, had to learn American Sign Language (ASL) as adults. “I grew up in Queens and had a fairly similar journey to other minorities who were born to first generation immigrant parents. But having Deaf parents added another level of ‘minority within a minority’,” said Danny. 

“At public places such as subways, buses, supermarkets, shopping malls or restaurants, kids or even ignorant adults would make fun of my parents and I, mocking our sign language,” Danny recalls. “This caused me to avoid communicating in sign language in public places. I would just use my facial expressions and discreet sign language to communicate with my parents whenever we went out,” he added. 

It was only in the ‘90s that Danny sensed perceptions shifting.

“Students would talk about wanting to learn ASL as a second language. The television and movies started showing more Deaf actors and there was more interest in American Sign Language interpretation as a profession,” he explains. 

“Some people began to realize the Deaf people like hanging out at bars too,” Danny quips.

A whole new world

It was only in his college years that Danny started letting his own walls down. The Interpreting Training Program (ITP) at his college connected him to a larger Deaf community and gave him the platform to speak publicly about Deafness and the importance of ASL.

“It was my first time meeting Deaf professors, a CODA Professor and many highly-skilled Interpreters who gave their time to educate my classmates and I about ASL and English interpreting.” 

Being connected to this community helped him realize, for the first time, that he and his parents were not alone.

How sign language makes music accessible 

Amber Galloway Gallego, a sign language interpreter and Deaf individual, is another person whose work helps change perceptions of the Deaf community. A trained interpreter, Amber specializes in interpreting ASL for Deaf audience members at concerts and music festivals. 

If you’ve seen Amber’s interpretation, you’ll know she puts her whole body into it. In fact, it was a viral video of Amber interpreting at the annual Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago in 2013 that triggered thinking about the needs of Deaf concert attendees, or any other patron with different needs, for that matter.

Amber has interpreted for over 400 artists including the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Snoop Dogg. Her expressive style conveys not just the lyrics, but the tonality of each instrument as well.

“I first research each artist and think about their delivery of the words and the message that they are trying to communicate to the world. I then listen to them over and over until I have memorized the way they produce their music. I also look at how they have composed the instruments and think about how each instrument has a voice in their music. I think about ways to also convey these as well,”  Amber explains. 

This thorough preparation has not gone unnoticed. The Week described Amber’s style of interpreting as “language, poetry, and performance all coming through at the same time”. 

“Currently, our Deaf and hard of hearing community have to ask and the burden of access falls on the shoulders of us as consumers. If you automatically make access to music a part of your show and create a budget line similar to the addition of speakers and microphones to your show, it will welcome our entire community. By doing this, we regain our dignity as humans knowing we also matter in the very hearing centric world.”

Use it or lose it

As much as sign language is rich, diverse and important, there is fear in some quarters that it is at risk of being phased out. In an interview with TCF last year, Eri Nasu, a Japanese sign language entertainer, shared her fears about the impact of advancements in technology, budget cuts and the closure of schools for the Deaf.

Danny, however, is less concerned about this. “Many Deaf, Hard of Hearing and Hearing people use sign language and there are many practical applications for sign language like communicating over long distances, through windows, in loud environments or when underwater,” he explains. “I’m a believer that it is a great benefit for everyone to learn sign language. It helps open communication across borders, build connections and friendships across the world,” he added.

Catch Danny and Amber interpreting live at TCF THE CONCERT 2022, happening at Tokyo Garden Theater, Japan, on November 19 and 20. 


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Discover just how diverse sign language is

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True Colors Festival

TCF is a long-running international festival of performing arts. We celebrate diversity and inclusion, and embrace the fact that we are One World, One Family. We choose the arts as our platform, for its power to move, inspire and heal.

As a festival, TCF brings people together to generate exchanges, innovation and creativity; and transform the way we relate to each other.

Presented by The Nippon Foundation, TCF brings diverse artists and audiences together through concerts, documentaries, music videos, film screenings, children's programs, musicals, workshops and other activities. Since 2006, festivals have been organized in Southeast Asia and Japan, with more than 1,200 artists from more than 30 countries connecting with a global audience in more than 80 countries.

TCF invites you to journey with us, to enjoy, experience, share and spread our consciousness of being One World, One Family.

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