I thought the comparison between these two icons of the modern American deaf community is a non-issue until I watched this video and read this blog post. The video owner obviously sided with Marlee Matlin because she signs. The deaf blogger sympathizes with Heather Whitestone because she is also a mom.
I would most likely be biased for Ms. America 1995 Heather Whitestone-McCallum because I already met her personally. I was her official sign language interpreter during her visit in the Philippines in 1997. I even promised to make a personal web page for her which I did. The page still exists since it was online in 1997. I also maintain a Wikipedia article about her. Here is what I wrote about Heather:
As her sign language interpreter during her four-day visit in Manila, I had a chance to be with her on a personal basis. At first, I was very much scared because I haven’t had any experience with American Sign Language before and with MS. AMERICA!!! WOW!!! I learned from Julie that Heather is an oralist. How will I sign to an oralist? I’m a pure Philippine Sign Language interpreter.
When I saw her enter the VIP Lounge, I was the first one who shook hands with her. I was enthralled by her beauty. I even signed “Good Afternoon” at 9:30 pm!! How embarrassing!!! When I start to sign to her during the press conference, I did not mouth the words. I learned later that she needs to read people’s lips in order to understand them. So I changed my method. A big shift for me but it was worth it. I began to make contact with her.
Aside from that, Heather and I are of the same faith. During her stay here, I had a chance to talk with the McCallum couple inside the van while waiting for her call. I learned that they are very wonderful and faithful Christian couple. They shared with me about how the Lord Jesus Christ changed their lives. I also told them about my burdens with the hearing impaired. John comes from a family of Baptist pastors and both of them faithfully attend a Christian church at Georgia. Heather also comes from a Christian family. All of us love Sandi Patti and her inspiring Christian songs.
I was an instant fan of Marlee Matlin when I watched her debut movie “Children of a Lesser God” where she won the Best Actress award. I don’t remember the movie being shown in theaters here in late eighties. But I bought the original CD copy and we often play it in our Deaf Culture class in school. I also watched her Reasonable Doubts TV series which was shown in the Philippines in its entire run. My whole deaf class had a field day when we watched Hear No Evil when it was shown in theaters here.
Without a doubt, both Heather and Marlee are equally good looking although Heather won in a beauty pageant so she is ahead in beauty points. Both of them lost their hearing ability when they were still eighteen months old. Heather’s winning piece in Ms. America contest was her ballet rendition of “Via Dolorosa”. Well, Marlee also competed in Dancing With the Stars and stayed in ranking for six weeks. Marlee wins hands down in acting ability with major performance awards on her sleeves. I haven’t heard Heather guested in any theater or had any acting stint.
Here lies the big difference. Although Heather knows how to sign, she does not encourage it. She actively promotes oral method of communication. During her stay here, although I’m her interpreter, however, most of the time, I feel like I’m interpreting for the deaf audience than for her. She can lipread quite well. She only needs my assistance when the speaker is way too far for her to understand his lip movements. A controversy arise when she decided to have a cochlear implant operation in order to hear to an extent in her right ear, something that she had never been able to experience before. Whitestone said the primary motivation for electing the surgery was an incident when she did not hear her son’s cries for help.
There are times when Marlee also uses her voice. But not often. She signs perfectly well. Her movements are flawless and typical of a deaf person. She greatly encourages the use of sign language. She even campaigns for mothers to teach sign language to their babies. I learned that she was elected as one of Gallaudet University’s Board of Trustees.
If I were a hearing person who knows nothing about deaf and their wonderful culture, I would definitely root for Heather. She is what these group label, “success against all odds“. However, if I belong to the hearing group who understands the deaf and their quaint intricacies, I would side with Marlee. She embodies the true blue Deaf person.
I may be biased for Ms. Whitestone because of association. But I would, beyond reasonable doubt, root for Marlee. I love sign language. I encourage deaf people to sign and be proud of their culture. And with Heather’s cochlear implant, I’m not even sure if she is still deaf. 🙂
Now, which deaf are you? A Heather or a Marlee? 🙂
Please read the entire Article of Ms. America’s 1997 Philippine visit here.
PS: I hope Ms. Whitestone will read this post and get in touch with me again. 🙂