Comunidades Indígenas en Liderazgo (CIELO) hosted our first language revitalization on Sunday that launched on the precipice of Indigenous people’s resistance month. We felt it was essential to strengthen Indigenous communities in the United States ties to language. CIELO is offering free language classes in Dilla Xhon, Tu’un Savi, Maya Tʼàan, and Ayuujk. For the next three months, we will be hosting weekly meetings on Zoom to strengthen our ties and relearning our languages in an Indigenous-led space that centers Indigenous people. As an Indigenous-led organization, we continuously see our communities in resistance to maintain and create ties to language and culture for the next generation. We hope to strengthen Indigenous communities’ ties to language by offering this safe space to learn and grow within our communities while building links to our extended community in the United States.
Personally, relearning my language is incredibly important; therefore, this opportunity to participate in the Dilla Xhon class with other Bene Xhon’s is exciting. Our first class was not only about learning words but also learning the cultural significance of those words. It is an opportunity that is not widely available to Indigenous migrants in the United States to learn from a Bene Xhon elder. The current pandemic that we live in gives us a unique opportunity to learn from home now that we are adapting and acquiring new skills like using technology to connect. As Indigenous people, we are continuously growing and adapting in the face of new situations, always fighting to reinforce our language and culture. It is giving us the ability to connect as a broader community in different places. Bene Xhons are joining from Bakersfield, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, California, Portland, Oregon, coming together to learn the words spoken by our ancestors long before us.
As Indigenous people, we are continuously growing and adapting in the face of new situations, always fighting to reinforce our language and culture. It is giving us the ability to connect as a broader community in different places. Bene Xhons are joining from Bakersfield, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, California, Portland, Oregon, coming together to learn the words spoken by our ancestors long before us.Janet Martinez on Dilla Xhon class
In California, where the racism of Mexican migrants and the United States collide, Indigenous migrants have to face the shame both nations impose on Indigenous people. In the United States, Indigenous migrants have to become comfortable navigating another world where their language is excluded, where they are pressured to feel English and Spanish are important for survival and success. My parents would often repeat a phrase most often used to push English-Spanish bilingualism, “El que habla dos lenguas, vale por dos.” This often does not apply to Spanish-Indigenous language speakers because Indigenous languages are seen to be below English and Spanish. Many of us have struggled with slurs like Oaxaquita which are used negatively to identify Indigenous migrants. Racism made my parents unwilling to teach my siblings Tu’un Savi, made my siblings unable to learn it, and made my cousins return home to their parents too embarrassed to speak this language which they had learned and maintained before leaving the pueblo. Ultimately, racism creates little opportunity for us here in the United States to reconnect with Indigenous languages. Because of these experiences, holding space in which we can reconnect and reinforce our language ties is important.
This course holds space for 19 people in Oregon, California, Washington, New York, and Florida. Participants had previously shared they wanted to attend these courses to communicate with family who were unable to teach them. This way, they would help revitalize a language that would otherwise stop being spoken without reconnecting opportunities. Celerina emphasized that no matter how much we change as a people or how much Tu’un Savi varies, our relationship to the rain and our origin in the tree of Apoala draws us back to nature. For our first activity, we participated in an exercise that helped us feel confident that we can write Tu’un Savi. This challenged us to realize Tu’un Savi can be written. This reminded me of the times when I’d ask my parents how they would write Tu’un Savi. They’d tell me that there was no way to write it because it wasn’t a written language like Spanish or English. According to Celerina, Na Savi would use symbols in codices to record their stories, a fact that isn’t always known because colonizers tried to destroy the memory of these records. We hope that in reconnecting with this knowledge, participants can have larger conversations at home with family and community to continue building the road future generations of indigenous language speakers can walk on.
In California, where the racism of Mexican migrants and the United States collide, Indigenous migrants have to face the shame both nations impose on Indigenous people. In the United States, Indigenous migrants have to become comfortable navigating another world where their language is excluded, where they are pressured to feel English and Spanish are important for survival and success.– Claudio Hernandez on Tu’un Savi class
This Sunday, I participated in CIELO’s first Maya T’áan class offered as part of CIELO’S new language revitalization program. This class is meant for Yucatán Mayans, who are in the US, my cousin and I signed up given that we had similar reasons to learn Maya. We grew up hearing our parents gossip with our grandparents in Maya. We listened in on the conversations and never understood what they were saying because we were never entirely taught Maya. We were taught to speak Spanish at home and English in school. Our parents didn’t see where Maya would fit in this space that constantly works to erase our existence. The current pandemic really forced all of us to slow down and gave us the time to participate in this class. Through this class, we are able to connect to others just like us that want to learn because we know it is important to keep our language alive.
This class is being taught by Pat Boy, a Mayan rapper who raps in Maya T’áan. In the first session, we all learned how to introduce ourselves in Maya. It was so much fun seeing everyone’s faces as they learned new words/phrases and being able to practice saying them. Participating in this class emphasized the importance of reconnecting to our parents’, grandparents’, and great-grandparents’ first language. Pat Boy made the class a welcoming environment, making sure to allow every single participant had a chance to engage. The class itself is a mix of those who are learning to speak the language as beginners, and those who learned to speak the language but because they don’t practice speaking often, have forgotten some of it. The class has offered us the opportunity to learn and build a community online from which we can openly engage with as migrants here in the US.
We were taught to speak Spanish at home and English in school. Our parents didn’t see where Maya would fit in this space that constantly works to erase our existence.Genesis Ek on Maya Táan Classes
Ayuujk/ Tu’un Savi
Luis Lopez Resendiz
The COVID-19 Pandemic has brought us a lot of challenges. Especially to the Indigenous migrant communities in the US, but the hardships and the isolation from the world allowed us to rethink our ways of living and organize ourselves to learn and reconnect with our languages. The first sessions of the Indigenous language classes with CIELO were beautiful; I took these opportunities as a bridge that allows us to connect with the mother tongue many of us left behind, in our journey to the US. I often blamed my family for not knowing how to speak Mixteco. Then I learned that it wasn’t their fault; it was the racist structures of society who discriminated against us for who we are as peoples speaking the language of our ancestors.
Taking the Tu’un Savi class with Celerina is a dream come true. I admire this woman not only for being the most talented and beautiful poet in the Ñuu Savi nation, but her daily contributions to keep the language of the people of the rain alive. The most exciting part of taking this class with her is that I am doing it with other Na Savis from different parts of the US, from Northern California to the Central Valley to Los Angeles to South San Diego, and in Tucson, AR. Celerina started with a short history of the Ñuu Savi nation; I found out we were the first to invent the writing system in Mesoamerica, which later was developed by the Mayan. During the class, we did writing exercises to see where our knowledge was in writing. We did great, she said, as we are already knowledgeable on the western writing system now for the future classes, we will go deep on learning words, phrases, and the different tonalities.
I was also part of the Ayuujk class with Yasnaya Aguilar, one of the most powerful and thinkers of the Mesoamérican nations. This woman has developed essential writings on Indigenous people’s languages. The course with Yasnaya is binational; most of the participants joined us from different places in Mexico and Los Angeles, where the youngest student is of only nine years learning the language with his mom. A migrant family from Tlahuitoltepec trying to have his nine-year-old kid learn Ayuujk so he can talk to his family back home is the highlight of this course. He was the most active. I could see him practicing with his mom and responding to Yasnaya’s questions with motivation. Yasnaya joins us from her home in Ayutla Mixe; in her class, we learned the history of Ayuujk, the nation’s territoriality, and the use of the dieresis or the AWÄSTP when it comes to writing in Ayuujk. This is definitely why this work is essential because what we do will create a positive impact in those generations to come making sure to contribute to the effort of preserving and revitalizing and Indigenous languages, so they will never disappear.
The first sessions of the Indigenous language classes with CIELO were beautiful; I took these opportunities as a bridge that allows us to connect with the mother tongue many of us left behind, in our journey to the US.– Luis Lopez Resendiz on Tu’un Savi Class