Characteristically to the side of the large stage sits our interpreter dressed in black, trained only recently at a Julliard seminar for theatrical interpreting. He modifies his signing hands into paws while he wrestles with his emotions for Beauty as the Beast sings behind him. His ASL makes visual a line of music as only Wing Butler can.
I first met Wing Butler in a meeting preparing speakers for deaf youth. With his new business budding, the entrepreneur joked about his Chinese roots and related business goings on. As coordinator of the event, I later attended the last half of his presentation where I first heard more tender stories of his past of overcoming. I was so touched by the message I recommended him to a youth program to give inspirational talks for their summer camps.
His parents are both deaf; his mother is of Chinese decent and his father is Caucasian. Life for Wing posed a unique challenge. For example, many Chinese are adverse to mixed blood and he grew up in deaf culture rather than in Asian-American culture. The Utah white-hearing population, on the other hand, tends to be ignorant of both the Chinese-American culture as well as deaf culture. And of course Wing is not deaf either.
The first time I ever teamed with him I was on a mentor permit with only a few days of professional experience. The contrast in our skills was reflected on the faces of the young deaf clients who had no trouble expressing their distaste at the incongruity between us. I still remember the awe I felt at hearing a story with my ears and watching it appear like a 3-D movie before my eyes on Wing’s hands.
His Chinese family who can trace their roots to royalty left their deaf sister out of the status and quality of life they enjoyed. Some of the family emigrated from the Canton area of China to California eager to build their dreams upon the vision of “Gold Mountain”. Their deaf sister in California mingled with the Deaf community, a different circle than the rest of her family. There she was exposed to a wide variety of people and possibly more tolerant of her Chinese immigrant status than the wider hearing population of California would have been. It was amongst that circle that she met Mr. Butler, a Caucasian deaf man and consequently, for Utah interests, a Mormon.
She joined the LDS church herself, married, and soon settled in Pleasant Grove, a fortress of Caucasian Mormondom. Wing, their first child was not named for a bird appendage but for a common Cantonese family name spelt Wihng in Roman letters meaning ‘a person of honor or glory’. As the oldest, Wing pioneered for his forthcoming brothers and sisters an identity. He was neither accepted as white, Chinese-American, or Deaf but usually as a poor and often slovenly dressed misfit learning English from a society generally callous to the needs and differences of minorities.
He gained his spoken language through the white society around him and often at the brunt of jokes. Ching chong…not ever knowing for himself the beauty and depth of the language he came to tease about to fit in. But he did gain his voice and quickly discovered its power and his developing facility in it.
As he grew older his Chinese family viewed him as the man in their sister’s life who could provide for her financial security. On a visit to California he saw the wealth of his uncles and the strangeness of the Chinese-American culture he’d been isolated from. They laid familial pressure upon him to succeed as they had done through their entrepreneurial enterprises. Now Wing owns and operates Signing Resources, a free-lance interpreting agency. His sister is the company’s website model.
He built his life from the ashes of isolation and identity disorientation. He continues the wrestle for that identity for his own family. Turning back to the musical and the interpreter in black, Beauty now walks on stage. She discovers the Beast’s true identity and with a kiss, turns him into a handsome prince. The show is over.
Wing debuted as an interpreter for a reality television show called Ultimate Fighter Championship and the list of high profile gigs is long.