The Mayan Calendar predicted that the world would come to an end December 21, 2012. While the rest of the world was in a tizzy over the Mayan apocalypse that wasn’t, the residents of Oaxaca, Mexico, were busy preparing for the very real Coming of the Radish People. We all woke up on December 22 to the world, its politics, the house payments, jobs and other realities of life. Located well to the west of Mexico’s Mayan region, Oaxaca de Juarez is the capital of the state of Oaxaca, which is on Mexico’s Pacific Coast.
Just last weekend, the Radish People descended upon Oaxaca’s zocalo, or main plaza: giant root vegetables carved into human figures and other vivid forms. This isn’t some revenge-of-the-radish scenario. It’s an annual sculpture contest. La Noche de Rabanos – Night of the Radishes – is a Christmastime Oaxaca tradition that marks its 115th anniversary this year. Every December 23, artisans from around the region show up early in the morning to set up stalls in the plaza and put the finishing touches on elaborate sculptures carved from radishes — not the petite, round ones we’re used to in this country, but big, heavy radishes — some as big as 6 pounds and 20 inches long. So no apocalypse for the Oaxacans.
According to the tourist sites, the state of Oaxaca offers peaks almost 10,000 feet high, some of the deepest caverns in the world, virgin beaches, hidden jungles, and luminous valleys. The city was declared part of Humanity’s Cultural Patrimony in 1987 by UNESCO and owes its fame to the beauty and harmony of its architecture, the richness of its cultural traditions, the wide variety of its typical foods, and its soft temperate climate, spring-like throughout the year. The historic center of Oaxaca extends six to eight blocks in each direction from the Zócalo. The city lends itself admirably to walking, as it was laid out in 1529 by Alonso García Bravo on the same grid-type plan he had used in Mexico City in 1521.
The Real Story
The real story for this week’s Hearing International is not the Mayan Apocalypse, Radish People, UNESCO, or even the historic center of the city. What’s relevant for our blog is that 230 surveillance cameras monitor the historic district of Oaxaca, and those cameras are watched by deaf police officers who maintain a close eye for violations of the law and other problems. Although many cities use cameras as monitoring devices, what’s unusual about Oaxaca’s is that they are manned by Deaf Police Officers.
As reported by the New York Times, when a normal-hearing police officer monitoring the surveillance cameras spotted a man acting suspiciously, he immediately called for backup. His backup was Gerardo, a deaf officer, who was summoned by sign language. Gerardo, 32, is part of a cadre of 20 deaf officers formed several months ago to help keep an eye on this tourist hub.
Why deaf officers? Well, when Oaxaca refurbished its police command center last year, it needed extra help monitoring the cameras, a time-consuming, monotonous task. Also, the cameras had a limitation: Because the equipment did not include recording devices, officers watching the camera couldn’t tell what the people being taped were saying.
“We could not read lips, so it occurred to us to use deaf people since many of them can,” said Ignacio Villalobos, the city’s under-secretary for public safety. He said that the deaf officers had another advantage as well. Unlike hearing officers who are frequently distracted by the buzzing of phones, the police scanner, and chatter in the command center, the deaf officers focus better on what the cameras show, which enables them to to see trouble developing on the screens faster. The deaf officers receive training in police procedures, but are not sworn patrol officers and do not carry weapons.
Villalobos said the deaf officers — “our silent angels,” he called them — had helped solve or otherwise assisted in several cases. In the incident reported by the Times, Gerardo helped identify the suspicious man caught on camera as a prime suspect in a murder case. Villalobos called that the biggest success of the program with deaf officers. “Even though we can’t hear, we can undertake any role,” Gerardo said, speaking through an interpreter.
Several cities in Mexico have installed security systems like Oaxaca’s in recent years to fight street crime. While raising some privacy concerns, the systems are celebrated by police officials for giving officers an extra tool to reduce response times and document crimes.
Our Hearing International hat is off to the Gerardo and his colleagues, Villalobos, and the other Oaxaca officials that have learned how to use highly skilled hearing impaired individuals as law enforcement officers!