Citrus Heights Sentinel Logo

Citrus Heights resident encourages others to learn sign language

Nate Dutra accepts a proclamation recognizing September 2023 as Deaf and Hard of Hearing Awareness Month during a Sept. 14, 2023, Citrus Heights City Council meeting. // M. Hazlip

By Mike Hazlip—
The City of Citrus Heights last week proclaimed September 2023 as Deaf and Hard of Hearing Awareness month, with the proclamation accepted by local resident Nate Dutra.

The proclamation was read by Councilwoman MariJane Lopez-Taff, recognizing the importance of raising awareness for the deaf and hard of hearing community in Citrus Heights and surrounding areas.

In a Sentinel interview with Dutra just before the meeting, he said the Sacramento area has the largest deaf community outside of the Bay Area. Speaking in sign language through an interpreter, he thanked Alfred Sanchez for getting the proclamation on the agenda for the council meeting.

Dutra, who teaches American Sign Language at California State University, Sacramento, said he would like to see more people speaking sign language. He said sign language programs are becoming more common, leading to more people who can communicate with those who are deaf and hard of hearing.

“They’re setting up new ASL programs and people leave those classes and they start to sign everywhere,” Dutra said. “Starbucks, Dutch Brothers, all kinds of places that I go to. I’m seeing the community grow through sign language and I can communicate with people all over the area.”

He said his goal is to help people feel more comfortable communicating with members of the deaf community.

“My number one thing I would like to put out there is that we don’t bite,” he said. “Learn sign language.”

Dutra said he is seeing some of his former sign language students from Del Campo High School working at restaurants and other businesses who are able to communicate in sign language.

“It’s amazing, actually,” Dutra said, noting it took six years for him to establish a sign language program at Del Campo High School. “Those students, I see them at restaurants, I see them signing, and it’s inspirational to me. It’s nice to be able to come in somewhere and have accessibility to different places instead of having to write back and forth nonstop.”

In addition to his work with the deaf and hard of hearing community, Dutra works with Sahara Hope Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to “sharing hope through acts of kindness and charity.”

The organization is named in memory of 23-year-old Sahara Hope Lowry, a domestic violence victim who was killed in Fair Oaks by her boyfriend in March of 2021.

Sahara Hope Foundation joined Sanchez and Grace House to provide “bags of hope” to unhoused residents at a Sept. 12 event, according to an announcement by the organization. That meeting led to last week’s proclamation by the City Council, Dutra said.

Like local news? Sign up for The Sentinel’s free email edition and get two emails a week with all local news and no spam, ever. (Click here)