The Morning Drive welcomed Justin Maurer, a local American Sign Language Interpreter who rose to prominence during the L.A. Teacher’s Strike with his commanding presence interpreting for press conferences, rallies, marches, and speeches.
During the six day strike, he also interpreted for various musical artists including Ozomatli, Aloe Blacc, Tom Morello, and Wayne Kramer.
Jillian Barberie, Steve Edwards, Dorothy Lucey and Randy Wang ask Justin about his experiences, background, his interpreting techniques, and how he serves the local deaf and hard of hearing community as a sign language interpreter.
(Note: Justin specifically requested that a transcript of this interview be posted online so that this radio interview would be accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing.)
Steve: And now Jill…
Jillian Barberie: Yes Sir.
Steve: You’re going to meet your new hero.
Jill: I cannot wait!
Steve: He is the man who suddenly thrust himself without even wanting to…
Jill: I put him up there with Rami Malek and right beside Bradley Cooper for performance.
Dorothy: He is the wind beneath your sign language.
Jill: He is fantastic.
Steve: Justin Maurer is his name, he is the man who suddenly got called into the middle of the teacher’s strike and became center stage when his choice would have been to be way off to the side.
Jill: Would it have been? I think he made the right bold choice with the red shirt and the expression and the passion. Because quite frankly I didn’t care about the teacher’s strike, my kids go to private.
Steve: That’s a great attitude as a citizen.
Jill: I’m sorry, I just didn’t care. I was glazing over…
Dorothy: She’s Canadian.
Jill: This guy came across the screen I thought what the hell is happening to me? This was fantastic!
Steve: Say good morning to your new hero.
Jill: Hi Justin!
Justin: Hi everyone! Good morning, thank you for having me on.
Jill: Thanks for coming! Steve was telling me a little of the back story, you were kind of thrust into this?
Justin: Well, there were probably about 50-100 deaf teachers on strike and they requested a sign language interpreter. I was there to provide equal access to communication for not only the deaf teachers on strike, but there are approximately 800,000 deaf and hard of hearing people in southern California, a lot of them are parents and students who were affected by the strike so I was there to make sure they also got the message.
John: How long before were you asked to do this?
Justin: I basically had to clear my schedule, as it wasn’t certain whether the strike was going to happen or not. It’s extremely difficult to find a qualified sign language interpreter last minute, so luckily, my schedule was mostly clear. I basically had to clear my schedule for 2 weeks to be available for them.
Jill: Let’s talk about your passion, quite honestly, I was thinking academy award winning performance. You could have been up there talking about Silkwood, or making love to someone.
Dorothy: Oh I’d like to see that in sign language.
Jill: It was unbelievable! Where does the passion come from? Someone said you do funerals too? Are you passionate? Randy wants people to know, how do you strike a chord?
Justin: My mother, aunt, and step father are all deaf. Having facial expressions is how you get across the vocal intonation in someone’s voice. If someone is angry or upset, or if they are monotone, your facial expression would show that.
Jill: That’s like Steve.
Dorothy: How does one do a funeral?
Justin: You try to do it without crying.
Steve: Watching what you do, I realize normally you are doing this is for a deaf audience, now this is to an audience of millions and millions. Were you self conscious in any way?
Justin: Absolutely. I knew the first time I did it, I knew that these press conferences were being televised locally and nationally and I was aware that any mistakes I would make would be visible to millions of people. But it’s not only my passion, it’s my professional duty to provide equal access to communication for deaf and hard of hearing people, so I was committed to accurately getting the message across.
Steve: When did you realize you were becoming a thing of the moment here in L.A.?
Justin: It all happened extremely quickly. I think maybe the moment was when I was in Little Tokyo interpreting for Ozomatli, the Latin pop/hip hop group. There was something about that moment onstage on a flatbed truck in front of 50,000 people…that’s when I realized there was something definitely happening as far as the energy…
Steve: I was telling them that you also are a rock guy. You played in bands, you traveled the world with bands. How does this all tie together?
Justin: It can be a little bit sticky to wear different hats. It’s important to mention that an American Sign Language interpreter shouldn’t use their profession to endorse their other lives or their other hats that they may wear… My background was as a musician, and I toured and released records for over 10 years, toured everywhere.
Steve: Did you do the rich tour or the poverty tour? Were you sleeping in a van or at a hotel?
Justin: It was largely a poverty tour (laughs).
Jill: Is performing (sign language) like performing onstage in a band? You have a purpose obviously to talk to the people who can’t hear…
Steve: And you have to sell it at the same time!
Jill: Exactly, that’s what I’m saying…you really sold me, even though I didn’t know what the hell was going on, I wasn’t really interested or listening… But I was like, this is fantastic! Is it like performing in a band a little bit?
Justin: Sure, your job is to get the energy across. In one week they had a number of performers including Aloe Blacc who does that “Dollar” song.
Jill: Oh I love that! (singing)“I need a dollar, dollar. A dollar is what I need.”
Justin: I interpreted for him as well as Tom Morello from Rage Against The Machine, Wayne Kramer from the MC5…there were a number of fantastic artists. So when you’re interpreting for musicians like them, you’re getting across the energy the best you can.
Jill: So you interpret music as well? How do you interpret it, is it like dancing? How is that different from interpreting a press conference?
Justin: A press conference, at least how we did it, was all live with no preparation (on the interpreters part) with multiple speakers. With music, an interpreter tries to get prepared as best they can in advance. If you can get the set list or lyrics, it’s good to practice and become familiar with the songs.
Jill: Did you do, “I need a dollar”?
Justin: I did.
Jill: Oh my God, I wish we could do this over the phone! It would be so fantastic, it would make my DAY! Because I love that song and I love you. (sighs heavily)
Dorothy: And you don’t want to take away attention from other people, right? Was it the Nelson Mandela celebration?
Jill: (Gasps) Oh that guy, oh my gosh! He wasn’t even real!
Randy: Right. He was fake.
Jill: Do you remember that one, Justin?
Justin: Yes I do, Jimmy Kimmel did a skit on it.
Jill: Yeah, that guy just got up there and he was doing nothing! (Laughs) It was crazy!
Dorothy: But he captured everyone’s attention.
Jill: He sure did, but he wasn’t saying anything. How long was it til they figured it out that he was just making it up?
Justin: I think immediately there were audience members who were tweeting that it wasn’t indigenous sign, it wasn’t South African sign, it wasn’t international, it wasn’t American Sign Language. It was just absolute gibberish. Unfortunately people like that bring down the reputation of people who are actually professional sign language interpreters who do it every day for a living.
Jill: Steve has been doing absolute gibberish for years on the air.
Steve: When you talk about American Sign Language, how many different types of sign language are there?
Justin: Each country has their own. American Sign Language comes from French Sign Language. There are a lot of commonalities; kind of like how Spanish being related to Portuguese, Italian, French, Romanian, they are are all romance language and related. So there are definitely commonalities, but every country has their own distinct type of sign language. Canada and the US use American Sign Language.
Steve: Don’t Canadians say “Get oot?” Is that a different sign than, “Get out”?
Justin: They might have a slight accent.
Jill: You’re hilarious…”Get oot.” (laughs) Well Justin, you have been an absolute pleasure, keep up the great work. You’re really passionate and you can tell! It’s great to watch even for people who don’t understand sign language. We get it! You’re terrific at what you do.
Randy: You make people care…about what you do.
Justin: Thank you so much. I also wanted to say that a transcript will be available for accessibility for the deaf and hard of hearing. It would be a bit hypocritical of me as an interpreter to do an interview on the radio that wasn’t accessible to the deaf. So I made sure to arrange that.
Steve: It will be up on our website. It’s valuable for your answers not necessarily our questions.
Justin: Thank you very much for all of your interest in sign language, deaf culture, and the deaf community, it’s appreciated!
Dorothy: Thank you!
Jill: I had no interest in the strike, but really do have interest about the deaf community
Steve: I hate to hear you say that, I want you to rethink it.
Dorothy: Of course it matters, it is public schooling!