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Archive for the ‘Language’ Category

2019 has been proclaimed the International Year of Indigenous Languages by the United Nations.  The issue of “lenguas maternas” (mother tongues) has a particular resonance in Oaxaca, as the state is home to 16 distinct ethnolinguistic groups:  Amuzgos, Chatino, Chinanteco, Chocho, Chontal, Cuicateco, Huave, Ixcateco, Mazateco, Mixe, Mixteco, Náhuatl, Popoloca, Triqui, Zapoteco, and Zoque.

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As anyone who has visited the villages of Oaxaca has discovered, sometimes the abuelos and abuelas only speak their mother tongue, not Spanish.  To honor and celebrate them, their ancestors, and their children and grandchildren, today on the zócalo, Oaxaca celebrated those languages with songs, poetry, and recitations.

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However, like indigenous languages throughout the world, Mexico’s indigenous languages are in danger of disappearing.  The importance of passing these languages and the world views they express to the younger generations cannot be underestimated.

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Thus here in Oaxaca, on February 21, 2019, Mother Language Day, you can walk The roads of the feathered serpent: revaluing one of the variants of the Zapotec Valley of Oaxaca” and “Meet the Zapotec of Teotitlán through storytelling and other activities!” at the Biblioteca Infantil (Children’s Library). 

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As I’ve mentioned before, Oaxaca is one of the most indigenous and (no surprise) one of the poorest states in Mexico.  And, the Triqui of the Mixteca region of Oaxaca are some of the state’s poorest residents.  They have recently come to the attention of sports lovers, as a result of the heartwarming story of their youth basketball team, dubbed the Barefoot champions of the mountains.

However, while their success story makes us feel good, it is rare.  Political violence and poverty continue to chase the Triqui out of their beautiful and ancient mountain communities in search of a better future for their families.   And, discrimination continues to follow them into el norte.  To add to the strikes against them wherever they go, Spanish is not their native language — the state of Oaxaca is home to 16 distinct ethnolinguistic groups, with Triqui being one.  And so, the story of Bernadina Hernandez and her grassroots efforts in Hollister, California should be known, appreciated, and celebrated.

A little background information…

Muchisimas gracias a Jody for turning me on to Bernadina’s story.

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In Oaxaca, a molino is an indispensable business in every village.  Dried corn, cacao beans, chiles, herbs, spices, nuts, and seeds are brought to the molino to be ground so they can be turned into the staples found on Oaxaca’s tables — tamales, tortillas, tlayudas, tejate, mole, Oaxacan chocolate, and much mouth-watering more!  Below is a miller of corn in Tamazulápam del Espíritu Santo, in the Mixe region of Oaxaca.

Sign painted on side of building "Molino de Nixtamal"

In Mill Valley, Molino is a colorful place-name, a street and a park, that recalls California’s Spanish and Mexican past.

Wooden sign: "Welcome to Molino Park"

“Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them. ”  —Bill Vaughan

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Wednesday in the Mixteca

cement block building "Fabrica Marmol" "El Colibrí"

How could I resist?  Photo, yes.  Dining, no.  We had already eaten and so were not tempted to try Restaurant El Colibrí, across the street.  However, still scratching my head about the relationship between marble (marmol) and hummingbird (colibrí).

Concrete block building with sign, Fabrica Marmol, El Colibrí

This librarian couldn’t resist doing a little research.  According to Wikipedia, the hummingbird in Aztec culture was, “emblematic for their vigor, energy, and propensity to do work along with their sharp beaks that mimic instruments of weaponry, bloodletting, penetration, and intimacy.”  Hmmm…  the tools and strength needed by a marble mason.  Now, it’s beginning to make sense.

(Thanks Chris for stopping so I could take the above photos.)

And now a song from the Mixteca, “Chikirriyó’i” (“El Colibrí”) (The Hummingbird):

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In 1999, UNESCO designated February 21 as International Mother Language Day.  Tomorrow, February 20, Oaxaca begins her own celebration of Día Internacional de la Lengua Materna 2013 with a 2-day conference.

dia internacional de la lengua materna oaxaca 2013

The issue of “lenguas maternas” has a particular resonance in Oaxaca, as the state is home to 16 distinct ethnolinguistic groups:  Amuzgos, Chatino, Chinanteco, Chocho, Chontal, Cuicateco, Huave, Ixcateco, Mazateco, Mixe, Mixteco, Náhuatl, Popoloca, Triqui, Zapoteco, and Zoque.  As anyone who has visited the villages of Oaxaca has discovered, sometimes the abuelos and abuelas only speak their native language, not Spanish.

However, as Ernestina Gaitán Cruz notes in an article in sinembargo.mx, most of these indigenous languages lack an alphabet, having been passed from one generation to another through an oral tradition, and because these “Mother Tongues” are not taught in the schools, a significant number of these languages are in danger of becoming extinct.

Oaxaca is not alone.  From the article, Indigenous Youth Step up to Protect their Roots:

UNESCO estimates that every two weeks, one language disappears from the world.

Education systems have historically played a large part in the disappearance of indigenous languages, sometimes even forcing their extinction by severely punishing and shaming children for speaking native tongues or expressing indigenous identity in any way.

<snip>

In some communities where a large portion of the population speaks only the native language, another issue arises: access to important information on topics such as health care, employment opportunities, legal rights and public services.

And, it isn’t just a particular community that suffers, as The Endangered Languages Project explains, The disappearance of a language means the loss of valuable scientific and cultural information.

Zapotec village of Teotitlán del Valle

Zapotec village of Teotitlán del Valle

One of the missions of the Centro Académico y Cultural San Pablo in the city of Oaxaca is to document, study, and preserve the indigenous languages of Oaxaca.  The center includes a library, offers language classes, and will be hosting several events during Día Internacional de la Lengua Materna 2013.

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From an article a few days ago in CNN Mexico:

Obama recibe a Romney en la Casa Blanca
Es la primera vez que se reúnen desde que el presidente venció a Romney en las pasadas elecciones del 6 de noviembre

Google translates:

Romney welcomes Obama at the White House
It is the first time they meet since President Romney beat in the elections of November 6

???!!!  It’s all about the grammar.  Back to the books for me!

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In the last month, several articles in the US press referencing Oaxaca have been called to my attention.  They aren’t the usual travel features enumerating the “10 must see sites,” “best places to stay,” and “local fare dining.”  Nor do they cater to the ever more popular fear mongering and demonization of Mexico and her citizens.  Instead, these articles provide a window on Oaxaca’s indigenous past and challenging present.

Triqui women sitting on a sidewalk

Triqui women and children in front of the Government Palace in Oaxaca de Juárez

From the June 15, 2012 New York TimesThe Past Has a Presence Here by Edward Rothstein.

OAXACA, Mexico — The past casts a sharp shadow here, wherever you look. You see it on mountaintop plateaus, where the ruins of ancient pyramidal staircases and capital-I-shaped ball fields hint at mysterious rituals that disappeared over a millennium ago.

<snip.

We are not dealing here with imagined reconstructions, but with the past’s palpable presence. And most of these ancient cities and monuments were abandoned some six centuries before the Spaniards plundered the region. After 80 years of archaeological research, their meanings are still unclear, though much has been written about Zapotec social hierarchies, gladiatorial-style games and stone carvings.

What is more clear is that remnants of those worlds also exist in the valley, where the slow-changing cultures of this buffeted but protected region still reflect Zapotec and Mixtec heritages. So here everything is plentiful that in the United States is rare: indigenous ruins, ancient languages, signs of direct lineage. And there is an edge to it all. Centers like Monte Albán are monuments to power and accumulated material wealth; they are also clearly evidence of a large-scale political organization, relics of perhaps the earliest state in the Americas.  [Read full article]

From California’s June 7, 2012 Monterey County Weekly, Native speakers and local missionaries work to save an indigenous Mexican language by Sara Rubin.

Gloria Moreno walks with a slight limp under the weight of the black messenger bag slung over her shoulder. It holds something of a botanical encyclopedia, petals and leaves gathered from the streets of Greenfield, which Moreno says help alleviate any number of ailments – pain, anxiety, weak bones.

Moreno says her collection is part of a medical tradition she began practicing as a teenager in Mexico. It was there, at 15, that she says she was instructed in a dream to take up herbal medicine.

Moreno dreamt her directive in Triqui de la baja, an indigenous language of the Copala region of Oaxaca in southern Mexico.

As native Triqui speakers disperse, leaving behind a notoriously violent region, there’s pressure both to preserve that language, and to leave it behind.

Of an estimated 40,000 Triqui speakers worldwide, about half of them are thought to have migrated away from Oaxaca, and as many as 10 percent live in the Salinas Valley.

<snip>

Moreno hopes for a generation of trilingual children, but many younger Triqui speakers are encouraged to trade their native tongue for English or Spanish, says a Salinas-based interpreter (who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal), because indigenous Mexicans are viewed as inferior. He trekked two hours to school from his childhood home in Oaxaca where he says he was bullied for being different.

“Because of the discrimination, parents don’t want their kids to learn [Triqui],” he says, “but then we lose tradition and culture.”

To reverse that, he hopes to get a grant or some cash to revive a bimonthly Triqui class piloted at the Greenfield Public Library two years ago. It drew about 35 students; of those, only a quarter were native speakers. The rest, mostly service providers, were there to learn Triqui.

“To speak Spanish, I used to think you had more value,” he says. “When I came here, I learned it is not that way. If you know three or four languages, you can explore and learn more.”

View Barbara Hollenbach’s Spanish-Triqui dictionary at www.sil.org/~hollenbachb/Posted.htm  [Read full article]

And finally from the May 28 Los Angeles Times, Epithet that divides Mexicans is banned by Oxnard school district, by Paloma Esquivel.

Rolando Zaragoza, 21, was 15 years old when he came to the United States, enrolled in an Oxnard school and first heard the term “Oaxaquita.” Little Oaxacan, it means — and it was not used kindly.

“Sometimes I didn’t want to go to school,” he said. “Sometimes I stayed to fight.”

“It kind of seemed that being from Oaxaca was something bad,” said Israel Vasquez, 23, who shared the same mocking, “just the way people use ‘Oaxaquita’ to refer to anyone who is short and has dark skin.”

Years later, indigenous leaders are fighting back against an epithet that lingers among immigrants from Mexico, directed at their own compatriots. Earlier this month the Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project in Oxnard launched the “No me llames Oaxaquita” campaign. “Don’t call me little Oaxacan” aims to persuade local school districts to prohibit the words “Oaxaquita” and “indito” (little Indian) from being used on school property, to form committees to combat bullying and to encourage lessons about indigenous Mexican culture and history.

Indigenous Mexicans have come to the U.S. in increasing numbers in the last two decades. Some estimates now put them at 30% of California’s farmworkers. In Ventura County, there are about 20,000 indigenous Mexicans, most of whom are Mixtec from the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero who work in the strawberry industry, according to local organizers.

Many speak little or no Spanish and are frequently subjected to derision and ridicule from other Mexicans. The treatment follows a legacy of discrimination toward indigenous people in Mexico, said William Perez, a professor of education at Claremont Graduate University who has interviewed and surveyed numerous indigenous Mexican students.  [Read full article]

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Fascinating and revealing… from Upside Down World.  I encourage you to read the full article.

Defying the Myth of Native Desolation: Cultural Continuity in Oaxaca
Written by Kathleen Melville
Friday, 09 December 2011 15:56

Woman grinding masa on stone matate

“There is no remedy, and the Indians are coming to an end.” – Don Felipe Huamán Poma de Ayala, 1615 (quoted in Restall, 100)

Despite the passage of nearly four hundred years, Huamán Poma’s dismal pronouncement remains the sad ending to many popular narratives of the conquest. In classrooms throughout the United States, students learn that the arrival of Columbus spelled the end of Native American civilization and that the Spanish conquest obliterated indigenous culture and society in the Americas. As Matthew Restall notes in “The Seven Myths of the Conquest”, this pervasive “myth of native desolation” (102) obscures the strength and vitality of indigenous people throughout history and into the present.

In Oaxaca, Mexico, the lives and work of indigenous people belie the myth of native desolation and attest to thousands of years of continuous, evolving culture. In July, over 30 educators from the United States convened in Oaxaca for a summer institute funded by the National Endowment of the Humanities. Our goal was to better understand the histories and cultures of indigenous people in the region so that we might help illuminate and preserve them through our teaching. With unit plans that we designed and shared, we hope to disturb and diminish the myth of native desolation and to enrich our students’ perspectives on native culture.

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Globalization and transnational corporations also pose a significant threat to indigenous cultural continuity. Artisans in Oaxaca complained that Asian companies have been mass-producing textiles and wood carvings abroad and then undercutting the tourist market locally. As documented in several articles on this site, the agricultural corporation Monsanto aims to expand its reign into Oaxaca and eliminate small maize farms like the Vicente family’s. Drug cartels, their own breed of transnational organization, also jeopardize indigenous culture by increasingly luring young people into lives of violence far from home. These giants make for formidable foes in the fight for cultural survival, but the indigenous communities of Oaxaca have faced formidable foes in the past. From the Aztec conquest to the Spanish conquest to the present day, indigenous communities in Oaxaca have endured and evolved, defying the myth of native desolation and defining a culturally sustainable future for themselves.  [Full article]

(FYI:  I just had first-hand experience with the threat cheap imports pose to the livelihoods of Oaxaca’s artisans.  I do all my Christmas shopping in Oaxaca (so much more enjoyable than hitting the malls in the USA) and purchased backscratchers for stocking-stuffers that “looked” like they were made from the ubiquitous carrizo found anywhere a trickle of water is found in Oaxaca.  However, there they were in a bin at one of the chain drug stores here in el norte!  I’m thinking they were made in China.  Wood carvers, potters, and weavers, the conversation is the same; business is down and these creative and talented folks are being forced to return to work in the fields.)  — casitacolibrí

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A few weeks ago, my neighbor gave me the following poem based on the Clement C. Moore classic, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.  The author, she said, was unknown.  The reference librarian in me couldn’t resist doing a little digging and found that this is Texas Public Radio DJ Ernie Villarreal’s version of the song, Pancho Claus, by Chicano music legend, Eduardo “Lalo” Guerrero.

~~~

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through la casa
Not a creature was stirring, Caramba! ¿Que pasa?

Los ninos were all tucked away in their camas,
Some in vestidos and some in pajamas.
While Mama worked late in her little cocina,
El viejo was down at the corner cantina.

The stockings were hanging con mucho cuidado,
In hopes that St. Nicholas would feel obligado
To bring all the children, both buenos y malos,
A Nice batch of dulces and other regalos.

Outside in the yard, there arouse such a grito,
That I jumped to my feet, like a frightened cabrito.

I went to the window and looked out afuera,
And who in the world, do you think que era?

Saint Nick in a sleigh and a big red sombrero
Came dashing along like a crazy bombero!

And pulling his sleigh instead of venados,
Were eight little burros approaching volados.

I watched as they came, and this little hombre
Was shouting and whistling and calling by nombre.

¡Ay, Pancho! ¡Ay, Pepe! ¡Ay, Cuca! ¡Ay, Beto!
¡Ay, Chato! ¡¡Ay, Chopo! ¡Maruca
and ¡Nieto!

Then standing erect with his hand on his pecho
He flew to the top of our very own techo.
With his round little belly like a bowl of jalea,
He struggled to squeeze down our old chimenea.

Then huffing and puffing, at last in our sala,
With soot smeared all over his red suit de gala.

He filled the stockings with lovely regalos,
For none of the children had been very malos.

Then chuckling aloud and seeming contento,
He turned like a flash and was gone like the viento.

And I heard him exclaim and this is VERDAD,
Merry Christmas to all, And to All ¡Feliz Navidad!

~~~

Multicolor star-shaped piñata against blue sky.

Piñata at the southeast corner of the zócalo in Oaxaca.

Paz y alegría a todos  ~~  Peace and joy to all.

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Argiope’s neighbor (of Orb Weavers blog post fame) has returned! Two days ago I spotted the Neoscona oaxacensis (Ms Oaxaca, to her nearest and dearest) nestled among the leaves of a succulent in the pot next to her original home. However, no large round insect catching web was seen.

Neoscona oaxacensis spider nestled in the leaves of a succulent

Apparently, last night Ms Oaxaca must have stayed up pretty late. This morning, when I came out to say, “buenos días,” I found her happily sitting in the middle of a brand new web.

Neoscona oaxacensis spider in the middle of her web.

According to SpidCat, the range of the Neoscona oaxacensis runs from the USA, down to Peru and the Galapagos Islands. They are not only beautiful and harmless, they keep the flying insect population down. So, if you’re lucky enough to have one in your garden, leave her be. If you don’t want to take my word for it, there was the study published in the California Avocado Society Yearbook (1980) that concluded,

…the significance of the orb weaving Neoscona in avocado orchards is probably not that they prevent dramatic population increases in the pest population or control the pests through the year. Instead, the presence of spiders, even in years of low pest populations, may dampen the increases in pest species during the later months of the season and serve as stabilizing agents to restrain the pest outbreaks during the interval between pest population increases and the numerical response of more specific parasites.

Anything that is good for avocados, is okay by me!

(ps) And now for something completely different… The answers to the Name that film quiz are:

  • Birds of America = Vecinos y enemigos
  • Brokeback Mountain = Secreto en la montaña
  • Easy Virtue = Buenas costumbres
  • Midnight Sting = El golpe perfecto
  • People I know = Noche del crimen
  • Tenderness = Asesino intimo
  • That Evening Sun = Una historia de traicion
  • Up in the Air = Amor sin escalas

Sorry, no prizes… just this bonus bizarre title translation my Spanish teacher contributed: Mrs. Doubtfire = Papá por siempre. Definitely a case of, lost in translation!!!

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Librarians, especially at the reference desk, are often called upon to be detectives.  However, sleuthing goes on behind the scenes, as well.  Lately, I’ve been cataloging DVDs at the Oaxaca Lending Library.  While most of the films are from el norte, they have been purchased in Mexico and thus have been given Spanish language titles.

Can you match these titles with the DVD jackets below?

  • Amor sin escalas
  • Asesino intimo
  • Buenas costumbres
  • El golpe perfecto
  • Una historia de traicion
  • Noche del crimen
  • Vecinos y enemigos
  • Secreto en la montaña

Answers will be revealed at the bottom of the next blog posting.

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My Spanish language abilities are progressing little by little (poco a poco).  However, one thing my wonderful and extremely patient Spanish teacher, Laura Olachea, has neglected to cover is Madre-isms; those too numerous to count and unique to Mexican Spanish, expressions that the mamas, hijas, and hermanas for the most part never use, at least not in mixed or polite company.

Of course, being that one doesn’t know what one doesn’t know, I was oblivious!  Oblivious, that is, until I read Norma Hawthorne’s review of the new book, Madre: Perilous Journeys With a Spanish Noun, by Liza Bakewell.  Intrigued, I purchased the book when I was in el norte in June and immediately plunged in.

Cover of book, Madre: Perilous Journeys With a Spanish Noun, by Liza Bakewell

In July, while I was immersed in the “madre” minefield, Liza arrived in Oaxaca for some much-needed R & R, to write an article or two, and to promote her book.  I had the pleasure of getting to know her (she’s warm, smart, and funny), eat one of Aurora’s (you will meet her in the book) empanadas, and assist with setting up a couple of speaking engagements.  The first, in English, was at the Oaxaca Lending Library, where the audience was overwhelmingly women and, as expected, mostly gringas.  There was much surprise and laughter as Liza read excerpts from the book, expanded on points, and answered numerous questions.

Liza Bakewell at the Oaxaca Lending Library showing her book, Madre...

The second speaking engagement, the following evening, was at the Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca (IAGO) and was conducted all in Spanish.  And here, surrounded by the Rini Templeton exhibit, I looked around and noticed the majority of people attending were Mexican men.  However, like Guillermo Fricke, Director of IAGO, people listened closely, occasionally chuckled knowingly, and stayed to ask questions and make respectful and thoughtful comments.

Guillermo Fricke listening to the talk by Liza Bakewell at IAGO

It was a much more reserved gathering than the day before, but no less attentive and appreciative.  And, reflecting on previous events and observations and now reading Labyrinth of Solitude, by Octavio Paz, I’m coming to understand, except for fiestas, that is the Mexican way.  Though, I wonder, if it had been all Mexican women in attendance, would it have been different?  I think so.  There is something about the bond women share that crosses boundaries and cultures….

However, thanks to Liza, at least while in Mexico, I may never utter the word, madre, again!

(ps)  If your local library doesn’t have Madre: Perilous Journeys With a Spanish Noun, ask them to order it!

(pps)  Another insightful review of Madre has just appeared on GlobetrotterGirls.com

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