By Eliana Ayala
Dr. Tomás Garcia, born deaf, gained a new perspective on life after overcoming obstacles to become an American Sign Language professor and ordained deacon.
“My deafness gave me a broader understanding of the world. My deafness allowed me to listen with my heart.” said Garcia using ASL.
As a Latino Garcia’s family had many pictures of Jesus, but he was confused as to who Jesus was.
“I thought he was my uncle” Garcia chuckled.
In the Latino culture religion is important but many families don’t have the ability to teach their Deaf children about religion. This was his inspiration to become a part of Holy Angels, a well known Church in the Deaf community. Garcia became the ordained Deacon in June 2016.
Garcia’s experiences motivated him to become a part of a sacred place where familiar deaf people can come together and learn the word of God at Holy Angels Church in Vernon, California.
Many churches now provide interpreters but this still doesn’t compare to the splendor of attending a service with a majority of Deaf attendees. Currently there are few deaf churches within close proximity, Holy Angels is located in Vernon with a sister church in Los Angeles. Other Churches that provide a service for the Deaf are located in Norwalk, Covina, Orange County and Riverside.
“As a psychology major, I believe that Religion is a great way to maintain one’s sanity” said Garcia.
After high school, he felt lost and college wasn’t in his plans at the time. Luckily, his uncle encouraged him to attend college. Garcia is grateful for his uncle’s encouragement and for being a good example in his life. He looks up to his uncle for being the first person in his family to attend and graduate from college.
Garcia didn’t allow trials, such as audism (oppression of the deaf), tough classes or the awkwardness of communication barriers deter his ambition from obtaining an education. It was a difficult experience in college, walking around with an interpreter by his side.
Students would assume many things of him and his interpreter. Garcia said, “People thought she was my mother.” It was awkward at times, but he didn’t let the misunderstandings interfere with his journey in college.
“Growing up in Compton, people had low expectations. If it weren’t for my uncle I would’ve ended up in jail, dead or with 10 children,” said Garcia.
Garcia worked on a double major at California State University, Dominguez Hills. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in Spanish Language and Literature and another B.A. in Chicano Studies in 1996. He earned his Master’s degree at California State University, Northridge in Special Education with a concentration in Deaf Education in 1999. He then continued in his pursuit for higher education at Pepperdine University where he earned his Doctorate Ed.D. in Education in 2003.
He has taught at East Los Angeles College since 2009 and previously taught at California State University, Northridge from 2006-2009. Chairperson of the Modern Language Department at Elac, Dr. Norma Vega says, “Garcia has been actively involved in the school’s ASL program by frequently reaching out to the Deaf Community and using outside resources to enrich student’s learning… He has certainly strengthened the program.” The school is currently working on a program for a degree in ASL which was highly encouraged by Garcia.
He beat the odds by becoming the 4th Deaf Latino in the United States to earn a doctorate. Currently, he is back in school working on a second P.H.D to become a Psychologist. Garcia wants to fill the gap of Psychologists that obtain the ability to sign and understand the deaf within the latino community.
His purpose in pursuing a career in teaching was to become a role model for other Deaf Latinos and prove that a they too can become successful. Being educated, relatable and a living success story is what motivated Garcia to endure the demands of college. It will also be what pushes others like him forward.