The Escuela Nacional para Sordomudos (ENS), translated as the Mexican National School for the Deaf, opened its doors in the 1860s as part of the republic’s intention to educate its deaf people. The ENS did not use Lengua de Señas Mexicana (LSM), Mexico’s native sign language, for instruction, though they tolerated LSM use by the students. The school was closed permanently in 1972, thus leaving its former students still alive today as the last links to this historic institution. In this compelling social history, Claire L. Ramsey presents these unique Deaf Mexicans from their extraordinary experiences as ENS students and signers to their current personal lives.
One ENS signer, María de los Ángeles Bedolla, inspired the title of the book, The People Who Spell. In her account, she describes herself and her peers as cultured and educated compared to the young deaf people of today. The ENS signers pride themselves on el deletreo, LSM fingerspelling, which they consider key to their sophistication. Ramsey relates each of the signers’ childhoods, marriages, work experiences, and retirements. However, she brings threads of their stories together to reveal a common and abiding disappointment in modern-day Mexico’s failure to educate its deaf citizens according to the promise made more than 100 years ago. The narratives of the ENS signers detail their remarkable lives and heritage but also legitimately question the future of Mexico’s young deaf people.