Growing up, Zapoteco was both a familiar and unfamiliar language. I grew up in a community with Bene Walash (paisanos or community members), consisting of people from different hometowns from La Sierra Norte (northern region part of Oaxaca). Most of our community members’ first language was Zapoteco, so throughout my life, I listened to their conversations on a day-to-day basis. I did not understand any of the words they exchanged, but I was always fascinated and drawn to know what it all meant.
I was eager to learn, but the possibilities at the time were limited. My parents could not teach me because they did not know the language. I remember being frustrated and questioning why they did not learn from my grandparents or family members while growing up. However, they explained that Zapoteco was lost generations before my grandparents were born. The displacement that impacted our community centuries ago vanished our ancestors’ language in our hometown.
It’s been over a year since I took my first Dilla Xhon class with CIELO. I was able to share this experience with my mom and sister, who also participated in the class. Engaging in conversations and learning about our culture and ancestors resonated with my younger self, who eagerly wanted to learn Zapoteco. Although it has been a challenging and unpredictable year, the Dilla Xhon class was a space of safety and acknowledgment. Experiencing this class with my mom, sister, and different generations of Zapotec descent, inevitably, filled my heart with joy and hope.
In October of 2021, our class was finally able to meet in person with our teacher Filemon Beltran, who had been virtually teaching the class from Mexico City. Coming together to preserve our language through conversations, food, music, poetry, and critical thinking created a clearer understanding of our ancestors’ way of thinking and expressing. Zapoteco is not only a way of communicating. It is also a way of living and connecting ourselves to the world around us.
I thank CIELO for providing their time and space for these classes. A big thank you to my teacher Mon, who I hope to see in the near future.