Raised in Arlington Heights, Illinois, Rachel Mazique grew up in a mixed deaf and hearing family. Because her parents and older brother are deaf, Mazique’s first language was American Sign Language; she used spoken English with her hearing relatives. Mazique herself was diagnosed with progressive hearing loss at five years old. As a child, she attended all-hearing schools until she entered a mainstream deaf program at John Hersey High School. There, for the first time, Mazique was exposed to Deaf peers and a teacher who knew ASL.
Though she is third generation Deaf, Mazique’s interaction with Deaf peers was the catalyst for discovering her Deaf identity, a journey that continued into her postsecondary years at Flagler College and Gallaudet University. As she explains, “I was simply born into a Deaf family and did not question its meaning in relation to larger cultural processes or a larger Deaf community… if it were not for [my Deaf peers], I may have never fully discovered or realized my Deaf identity.” However, Mazique also considers her family background to be instrumental to her involvement in the Deaf community. In fact, she began participating in state Deaf pageants through her mother’s involvement with the Illinois Deaf Latino/a Association (IDLA), culminating in her victory at the 2010 Miss Deaf America pageant. Additionally, thanks to her father’s support, Mazique attended a 2003 conference at Gallaudet as a high school senior, which eventually led to her admission there.
At Gallaudet, Mazique had the opportunity to interact with international Deaf students and gain exposure to their sign languages. One of her classes entailed a one-month stay in Madrid, where she studied Lengua de Senas Espanol (LSE), or Spanish Sign Language; on the same trip, she also picked up some British Sign Language (BSL) in England. Mazique drew upon these experiences for her Miss Deaf America platform, titled “Sign Language Literacy,” which focused on the diversity of world sign languages. One of her stated goals as Miss Deaf America is to encourage the study of foreign sign languages in order to foster a stronger global deaf community.
An avid reader since childhood, Mazique also possesses a love for English. Currently, she is pursuing a PhD in English literature with an emphasis on Deaf literature at the University of Texas in Austin. In the meantime, she teaches rhetoric to undergraduates through staff interpreters. Once Mazique acquires her PhD, she hopes to become a professor of Deaf literature.