As singer Demi Lovato belted out the national anthem at Super Bowl LIV, Christine Sun Kim stood on the field about 10 yards away, powerfully delivering her own rendition in American Sign Language.
Kim, a graduate of Irvine’s University High School who was also enrolled in OCDE’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing program, is now a respected Berlin-based artist who uses drawing and movement to explore sounds. She says she accepted the invitation to perform at the massively popular sporting event out of a sense of patriotism, noting that the United States has made tremendous advancements for individuals with disabilities.
“The experience itself was amazing,” she told the OCDE Newsroom in an email on Tuesday. “Seeing yourself on the Jumbotrons in the stadium the whole time was pretty incredible. You could see so many people involved in making this event, especially the halftime show. The National Association for the Deaf people were collaborative and easy for me to work with. I’m very thankful for this opportunity from both the NAD and NFL.”
At the same time, in a Feb. 3 column for the New York Times titled “I Performed at the Super Bowl. You Might Have Missed Me,” she also expressed frustration that her versions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “America the Beautiful” only got a few seconds of airtime on the Fox television broadcast. Others on social media made similar observations about her fleeting appearances.
“To be honest, (the limited airtime) was a huge disappointment — a missed opportunity in the struggle for media inclusiveness on a large scale,” Kim wrote. “Though thrilled and excited to be on the field serving the deaf community, I was angry and exasperated.”
She said in the Times column that her “pride in being chosen for this performance was genuine,” and she credited the NFL for providing access to people who are deaf and hard of hearing for more than three decades. She also took time to reflect on the life made possible by a landmark civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against those with disabilities.
“Because of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, I have been afforded the rights and access that have allowed me to live a life on par with my fellow citizens,” she wrote. “I am able to watch TV with captions, make phone calls through an online video platform, and have interpreters provided for my education, among many other privileges. I have traveled to many countries and witnessed firsthand the lack of equality for deaf people all over the world, making me appreciate being an American even more. I realize that being a citizen of this country is not something to be taken for granted.”
For those who only got to see a few seconds of Kim’s performance, or those who missed it altogether, we’re sharing the full versions of the national anthem and “America the Beautiful” here, courtesy of the National Association of the Deaf.