As Shana Shimizu signed to her family and friends during a teleconference in Pacific Palisades earlier this week, friends Kristine Pagano and Jessica Sotoa peered into the screen to get a look at Shimizu's new boyfriend.

Woman follows
signs to success

A college junior from Hawaii
will compete in July for the
title of Miss Deaf America

Happy "chatter" filled the room, with hands flying, as relatives and friends in Honolulu used a video telephone to exchange news via sign language with Shana Shimizu in Washington, D.C.

The 20-year-old junior at Gallaudet University recently was crowned Miss Deaf Hawaii 2003.

Family and friends gathered at the Pacific Palisades home of Cheryl Mizusawa to talk to Shana on the teleconference hookup through a television.

Shana was with two former Miss Deaf Hawaiis, Cassandra Quilit (1999-2001) and Christine Akana (1993-1995), both Gallaudet students.

With the group in Pearl City was Kristine Pagano, 1995-1997 Miss Deaf Hawaii and adviser for the Miss Deaf Hawaii committee.

Cathie Collier interpreted the animated signing.

Shana said she's "really nervous" about competing with 49 other women at the Miss Deaf America Pageant July 6-10 in Kansas City, Mo.

"It's really big. It's important for me to be positive," she said.

Elsie and Stanley Shimizu signed to their granddaughter.

She was one of four contestants in last month's Hawaii competition, sponsored by the Aloha State Association of the Deaf. She won the talent award with a signed story about the Hawaiian goddess Pele, but said she can't perform it in Kansas City because "the other girls and judges don't know about Pele."

Shana said growing up deaf was no problem for her because her parents, Stanford Shimizu and Gail Nakahara, and siblings Sherry, 19, and Shaun, 17, are deaf.

Sherry is a sophomore studying civil engineering at the Rochester Institute for Technology. Shaun is a senior at Pearl City High School.

Stanford Shimizu's brother Dwight, his wife and their two children are deaf. They live in Anaheim, Calif.

Elsie and Stanley Shimizu of Kapahulu, the parents of Stanford and Dwight, said no one on either side of their family is deaf except their children and grandchildren.

Audiologist June Isono said Hawaii has a handful of families that carry a strong deaf gene, called connexin 26 or GJB2.

Unless it's mapped genetically, it's hard to identify, she said. "But we know on the surface these people pass the deafness gene to offspring. ... We do have families with completely normal hearing parents and all the children are hearing-impaired or deaf.

"In families like the Shimizus, where deafness is part of their identity, that is what makes them what they are," Isono said. "They don't consider it a handicap at all. ... They have extraordinary expression of language."

Elsie and Stanley Shimizu, who sign enough to communicate, said they taught their sons to be independent and not see deafness as an obstacle.

The same philosophy was passed on to the grandchildren.

Shana wants to be a social worker for the deaf in family and child services and plans to pursue a master's degree at Gallaudet or the University of Hawaii.

Via videophone, she joked with her family and discussed topics ranging from her studies to the Sept. 18 hurricane on the Atlantic coast to her favorite fermented soybeans.

Shana said she's had strong support from the community, university and her family.

New technology such as the video camera "has helped tremendously" because she can contact her family if she's homesick, she said.

Many other new devices are helpful, she said, holding her pager up to the camera to show she can write messages on it.

Shana grew up in Aiea and went to a public school until she was 8, when she transferred to the Hawaii Center for the Deaf and the Blind. At age 12, she went to Pearl City Highlands Intermediate, then attended Pearl City High School.

Her grandparents, godfather and other relatives are planning to fly to Kansas City in July to support her in the Miss Deaf America Pageant.

Jessica Sotoa, Miss Deaf Hawaii director, and Shana's chaperone, Cheryl Mizusawa, will accompany her.

Shana said she's worried about the interview portion of the competition because a hearing person will be asking the questions with an interpreter. If a deaf person were asking the questions, "it wouldn't be a problem because we could sign back and forth," she said.

Her dad asked her how she's raising the money (an estimated $10,000) to cover her expenses at the national contest.

She said the Aloha State Association of the Deaf, Sotoa and Mizusawa are helping to raise money, and Akana and Quilit are planning a Hawaiian luau fund-raiser Oct. 18 in Washington, D.C.

Shana said she and the other Hawaii students at Gallaudet University support each other "and talk about how we miss Hawaii."

"We miss Hawaiian food. ... You're making me jealous," she said as she watched a large box of Leonard's malasadas and other refreshments passed around at the family gathering.

Donations to help support Shana in the national contest may be sent to the Aloha State Association of the Deaf, 1833 Kalakaua Ave., Suite 905, Honolulu 96815.


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