Top

laura_newman.jpg

Neighbor Spotlight: Laura Hazel Newman

photo by Vince Bushell

 

Laura Newman has a vivid memory from her childhood.

“My mom made us stand on a popcorn bucket, because we were still little. She held her hand on our throats and had us say our names so she could feel the vibrations. Then she held her hand on her own throat and felt the vibrations as she said our names.”

Laura Newman has a vivid memory from her childhood.

“My mom made us stand on a popcorn bucket, because we were still little. She held her hand on our throats and had us say our names so she could feel the vibrations. Then she held her hand on her own throat and felt the vibrations as she said our names.”

Laura’s mother is blind and deaf. She wanted to learn to say the names of her four children out loud.

“Now when I go home, my mom smells my perfume as I walk into the house. She says my name. Laura.”

Laura’s father is deaf as well. He and Laura’s mom met at the Wisconsin School for the Deaf in Delevan. He was a senior she was a freshman, and they were part of a very close community.

Laura and her brothers and sister grew up in an interesting house at 1750 N. Humboldt on the lower East Side. “They called it the Miracle House,” she said. “It was originally on Wisconsin Avenue. It was moved by horse and wagon to its current site. We always though it had some really strange doors and passageways. We found out it had originally been used as a slaughter house. It’s one of the oldest houses in Milwaukee.”

 

Family life was interesting for the Newmans. “English is my second language,” she explained. The first language she learned is American Sign Language.

“I had an older brother and sister, so I had some language when I started school at Garfield Elementary, but I had to take a lot of speech classes.

“It was hard to connect because my speech was really different. I had a lot of my expression through my hands and face instead of my words. My whole life I’ve been working to get back that connection. It made me more sympathetic to realize how different it was for my parents to walk through life and have their own experiences.”

There are lots of things that a young person might have trouble learning in a household with deaf parents.

“I was very loud as a young person,” Laura recalled. “And I tended to really blast music because nobody could hear me.” Friends had to point out that sometimes it was good to be quieter.

The relationship between Laura and her mother is different in little ways that make a big difference. “I can’t walk in the door and have my mom say, ‘You’ve grown up so much.’ I have to touch her on the shoulder, make it a point to include her. I have to say, ‘Mom, I’m 5-foot-7 now. My hair is long.’

“If we go for a walk, I have to explain what’s going on around us, describe things to her. It’s made me more aware of the world around me.”

Laura currently lives with her parents in West Bend where they moved three years ago, but she still has a year left at UWM where she majors in dance. She just finished a year as a Public Ally at the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin.

 

“I wanted to spend some time with my mom and work on our relationship, and help my parents get integrated into the community in West Bend,” she explained. Laura helps her parents out when they need her, serving as an interpreter or making phone calls.

She was also recently certified as a Zumba instructor. That’s what led her to create a summer job for herself. “Working with my mom and dad inspired me to give back to their community. So I decided to create a Zumba program for deaf people.”

 

Laura found a home for her program at the Pink House Studio in Riverwest. The first class will be held Saturday, July 9.

She plans to return to school, but after a year of learning and living the core values of Public Allies, her direction might change a little. “I loved working with young people,” she said. “I think I might want to go into human services. Since my time with Public Allies I’ve thought about a lot about finding ways to boost self esteem. I want to continue working with the deaf. I love to motivate people to see the assets inside themselves. I think I might stay in school a little bit longer.

“My dream is to one day have the deaf community performing on stage in Milwaukee. We would plan the performance so they would not say they were deaf. Then at the end they would introduce themselves.

 

“And everyone would talk with their hands.”

 

Zumba for the Deaf Community

 Pink House Studio

601 E Wright St

Saturdays 10-11:30

Beginning Saturday, July 9

Deaf community only

Hour long classes, extended for 1-on-1 interaction and guidance.