El Mensajero (English)

Posted: February 11, 2014

Last Updated: February 12, 2014

EMC photo by Sam Oldenburg

Angel Luis Martinez uses hand gestures to communicate through relatives during an interview with El Mensajero Jan. 2 at his home. Martinez, who was born deaf and mute, uses a combination of American sign language and his own hand gestures to communicate with relatives and with former coworkers at Coca Cola.

Rochester man 'an example for others'

By Annette Jiménez/EMC

ROCHESTER -- The need to communicate transcends all barriers.

That is the story of Angel Luis Martínez, a Puerto Rico transplant who was born deaf and mute. He not only created his own personal sign language to "speak" with family and friends, he also developed a strong work ethic that began with work at a farm in his native Coamo.

When he moved to Rochester at 18, he followed in his father's footsteps and took a job alongside him at the Coca-Cola bottling plant on Hudson Avenue. There, he worked for four decades until his retirement three years ago.

During a Jan. 2 visit to his family home near North Clinton Avenue, he proudly showed off a wall-size poster signed by his coworkers when he retired. His sister used motions to ask him questions while being interviewed for this story, and nearly every time, his answers were punctuated with a smile.

His 94-year-old mother, Santiaga Martínez, knows him best, said sister Josefina Rivera. He was the third oldest of the family's 11 children, said Rivera, who is the youngest. Two of the siblings are deceased.

Their father, Juan Martínez, who also is deceased, had moved to Rochester ahead of the rest of the family in the early 1960s, explained Rivera. He found a job and a house big enough for the entire family, she added, and slowly the rest of the family followed.

Santiaga Martínez said that raising all those children was "mucho trabajo (a lot of work)."

But without any other deaf family members, she was taken by surprise when Martínez still did not speak once he started walking, she said. Another family member noted his lack of response when called as a toddler, and they realized he was deaf, she added.

But she did have a cousin who was mute, Santiaga Martínez noted.

So, the family adapted and used different signs for the names of all the siblings as well as for other words. For example, one brother he identifies by pointing at the base of his neck that indicates the length of his hair. For another, he touches his cheek to indicate freckles.

Angel Martínez, who turns 70 on Feb. 18, laughed as they went through the different signs for his family members.

"He has a name for everybody," Rivera said.

Early on, he also displayed a penchant for working hard in the fields of a nearby farm at age 14, said Santiaga Martínez. He had picked up the machete skills at the side of his father, whom he would follow to the farm as a young child, she added.

"He earned $5 a week. He would give his father $4 and kept $1," said his mother.

He moved to Rochester in 1969 following years of traveling back and forth from Puerto Rico, she said. Only seven days after arriving, he began working at Coca-Cola. He worked on the assembly line mixing the sodas, Martínez explained through his sister.

"He did a lot," said Rivera. "I never understood how he was able to communicate."

Martínez, who attends Mass at St. Michael Church, had picked up some American Sign Language when he attended Rochester School of the Deaf for a couple of years, his sister said. He indicates that he learned a little but not enough, although he would practice with some of the friends that he made at the school.

"Every Saturday, he always had five or six girlfriends stop by and visit for a while," his mother teased him, and he laughed in response. "They would talk in sign language."

Fermin Sabastro said that Coca-Cola coworkers didn't know sign language, so they would just show him the process as they worked on the production line. And whatever job he was assigned to on that line, Martínez would do it well, Sabastro added. The two worked together for more than a decade at the company's Hudson Avenue plant, he said.

"He was great," Sabastro said. "He would do whatever we asked of him."

Sabastro said that while coworkers always found a way to communicate with Martínez, they made sure to look out for his safety. And it was uncanny how at times Martínez knew what a person was thinking before they even tried to show him, he added.

"He knew Coca-Cola like the back of his hand," Sabastro remarked. "He knew more than I did ... and did everything well."

Angel Martínez motioned how staff would walk him through the different jobs at the factory. If they couldn't explain something, they would write it down, he said through his sister. He never learned how to read lips, but he did learn how to read and write in English and Spanish, Rivera said.

"God takes away something but he gives you something else," she remarked.

Martínez is especially proud of the wall-size poster from his coworkers. All visitors are asked to come see the poster that hangs in a porch off his kitchen. He also shows off photos from the retirement party the company provided for him and a leather racing jacket he received as a gift.

That kind of pride in one's work offers inspiration to all, but especially for people who complain about having to work hard or of not wanting to work, Felix Martínez Marrero, a Holy Apostles parishioner, remarked of his cousin.

"People like him never get recognized," he added. "But he is an example for others."

Comments

MARLENE MARRERO (CRUZ)
HELLO I READ ANGEL L. MARTINEZ 'S STORY ARE WONNFERFUL AND HE ALREADY RETIREMENT. I KNOW HE ALWAYS WORKED SO HARD I KNOW HIM VERY WELL FROM N. CLINTON AVE AREA. MY FATHER WENT WITH HIM GO OUT SOMETIME. WELL, I I DONT LIKE THE WORD DEAF MUTE. ANGEL CAN UNDERSTAND SIGN LANGUAGE. I ADVISE U THAT U WRITE DEAF ONLY NOT DEAFMUTE THAT OLD FASHIONED. IT CALL INSULTED DEAF MUTE NOT NICE. I PREFER NICE WORD DEAF BETTER. I AM DEAF, I CAN READ AND WRITE IN ENGLISH THROUGH ROCHESTER SCHOOL FOR THE DEAF AND I GRUADUTED THERE. I DONT LIKE DEAF MUTE MYSELF. SOMETIME I AM PISSED OFF TO PEOPLE CALL DEAF MUTE. I WANT U REMOVE DEAF AND MUTE AT ALL. I KNOW THE PEOPLES ALWAY SAY DEAF MUTE. BUT THE PEOPLE DONT KNOW WHAT IS MY PERSONAILTY??? ANGEL IS GOOD MAN AND SHOW THAT HE CAN DO IT AND HE HAD WORKED AT COKE COLA FOR MANY YEARS. I AM PROUD OF ANGEL... I CAN SPEAK GOOD SOMETIME AND USE AMERICAN SIGN LANGUAGE WITH DEAF SOCIAL AT DEAF CLUB AND DEAF BOWLING LEAGUE. MY FAMILY KNOW SOME SIGN LANGAUGE WITH ME. I TEACHED THEM SIGN LANGUAGE AND FINGERSPELL. THANK U FOR MY UNDERSTANDING CLEAR. ALSO I AM APPRECIATED THAT ANGEL HAS FAMOUS NEWSPAPER LOL ANYWAY THANK U AGAIN, MARLENE MARRERO (CRUZ)
February 12, 2014, 12:18 AM
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Lydia & Alejandro Cerna
I use to have a Mama & Papas Grocery store ( Mi Tierra ) on Conkey & Avenue A he use to always frequent our place of business all the time he was always coming threw with his warm smile and happy demeanor. We always enjoyed his company and often tried to understand his way of communicating. It made me happy to see his story it deserved to be told. Thank-you
February 12, 2014, 10:43 AM
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Maria Cortes
Tio Mudo, as we call him with mucho carino, has alwaus been an example to all of us in our family. Regardless of the challenges that life brought him he always persevered. To get him to retire was a challenge, to get him to take a sick day was a struggle, to take a vacation day was a fight. Every year they would call the house to tell us to make sure he took time off because he would lose it if he didn't. He was a walking billboard for Coca-Cola. Anybody who knows him would tell you that. He is the epitome of the strong work ethic that our elders brought with them from the island. Not one for fanfare, he told me he would not be coming to my wedding. I was very upset, so of course I was quite surprised when the first person I saw as I stepped out of the car on my wedding day was my uncle in his red coca cola shirt. In front of St. Michael's church I hugged him and began to sob. I'll never forget that ever. I am very proud to be his niece.
February 12, 2014, 12:59 PM
Reply
Vanessa Desmore
Dios a bendecido Angel con un talento especial. Te quiero mucho Tio. -Vanessa (su sobrina)
February 16, 2014, 6:53 PM
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