‘To survive in a hearing world, deaf people have to juggle with four balls – deaf culture, hearing culture, BSL and English. For Asian deaf people, the task is harder by having two extra balls to juggle, home culture and home language. At the same time,  they’re trying to combat negative attitudes toward their deafness and blackness. How can they find a personal/social identity except in the company of others trying to perform the same feat?’ Rukhsana Meherali.

People come to Scotland to live from all over the world. We now have 19 different minorities/groups in Scotland including people from Asia, Africa, the Caribbean islands as well as mixed or multiple ethnic groups, for example, White Irish and Travellers. In fact most of us can trace our family back to places all over the world, including Ireland and England. In the same way, many Scots left Scotland in the 19th and 20th centuries to migrate to countries such as England, United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Migration is a vital part of Scottish history, and will continue to play a role in its future.

The Scottish deaf community are predominately Scottish White. However, there is also a number of people within this community that identify as belonging to a variety of ethnic identities and backgrounds.

The Scottish Ethnic Minority Deaf Club team, receiving an award. Photo donated by SEMDC.

Deaf ethnic minority groups are likely to have dual identity, living in two worlds – one at home with their families embracing their culture/language/food and the other world within the wider Scottish community. This can be difficult for some deaf individuals as their beliefs, values, religious expression are different to the people around them and in some situations they might face barriers and discrimination because of these differences. At the same time, they may feel different from their deaf peers yet have a strong deaf identity, being part of the deaf community and using British Sign Language as their first or second language. For others, BSL will be a new, unfamiliar language, with signs and grammar different to the sign language they know.

Glasgow Asian Deaf Club (GADC) was set up at Deaf Connections in 1998 to welcome deaf people from Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi origins. In 2017, GADC changed their group’s name to SEMDC (Scottish Ethnic Minority Deaf Club) and now welcome deaf people who migrated to Scotland from across the world, including Poland, Morocco and Syria. One of the largest migration groups to Scotland over the past 20 years are people arriving from Eastern European countries. This trend is also reflected amongst the deaf community. The majority of members of Deaflinks Dundee, for example, are from Latvia including around 20 families that have made Dundee their home since late 2000s.

Migration isn’t just about people moving across borders. There’s migration within a country too. Although deaf people who were born in the islands of Scotland might not think of themselves as a different ethnic group it is important to remember that a generation of deaf people migrated from the Scottish Islands to attend school in the mainland and often did not return to live in the islands. Is their experience of moving between place, culture, dialect and tradition similar to people that migrated to Scotland from other countries? What are the experiences we have in common?

Questions to consider:

Do deaf ethnic minorities/groups see themselves as Scottish, deaf or other?

How do we preserve deaf ethnic minorities’ culture and experience within the story of Scottish deaf heritage?

When discussing the topic of migration, is the experience of deaf people moving from the islands to the mainland an important area to explore for deaf heritage?

Do you have a story about moving to or leaving Scotland as a deaf person or raised in a family that has a different culture? Then come tell us your story. Email – felix@solarbear.org.uk