Did you know that 2019 has been declared International Year of Indigenous Languages by the United Nations? The organization’s goals include increasing understanding, creating conditions for knowledge-sharing, and integration of indigenous languages with the dominant cultures of each country. UNESCO has even set up a site which lists events, ways to get involved, and teaching resources which you can find here.
The Mexican government officially recognizes 68 indigenous languages which have approximately 350 different dialects. Most of these languages originated from 7 larger language families while some resulted from 4 language isolates, that is they developed independently of other languages. Purépecha, the indigenous language spoken in the area where I live on the border of Michoacan and Guanajuato, is one of those language isolates. (See Catalogo de las Lenguas Indígenas Nacionales: Variantes Lingüísticas de México con sus autodenominaciones y referencias geoestadísticas). Twenty-one indigenous languages are in danger of extinction as the last remaining speakers die off.
Since 2003, the Mexican law Ley General de Derechos Lingüísticos de los Pueblos Indígenas requires that its citizens receive services in their native tongues. Some strides in that direction have been made because of the efforts of the Instituto Nacional de Lenguas Indígenas but the results have been limited nationally.
Approximately 6 million Mexicans speak an indigenous language. Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, and Yucatec Maya are the two most spoken languages. Six million people is only about 7% of the entire population of Mexico which has allowed for increasing marginalization over the centuries.
However, under the new presidential regime of AMLO, indigenous culture has taken center stage once again. At his December 1 inauguration, the president-elect received the official blessing from the governor of Los Pueblos Indígenas (indigenous towns) complete with incense and cedar staff engraved with 68 indigenous language representations. He received yet another ruling staff on his trip to Oaxaca later in the month. This staff was the official Tatamandón, the staff that symbolizes the ruler of the majority of indigenous communities of the area.
Just days after taking office, AMLO announced the formation of the Programa Nacional de los Pueblos Indígenas stating “Daremos preferencia a los más humildes y a los olvidados, en especial a los Pueblos Indígenas de México.” Andrés Manuel López Obrador (We will give preference to the most humble and forgotten, especially the Indigenous Towns of Mexico)
It appears he is making efforts to listen to and incorporate the indigenous population in the new government.
On the other hand, AMLO also approved the construction of what is known as the Maya Train, even going as far as hosting a ceremony to ask Mother Earth bestow her blessings on the construction. Indigenous groups in the area are opposed to the route which will pass through some of Mexico’s most biodiverse and fragile ecosystems.
Furthermore, EZLN (the Zapatistas) have already made it clear that they do not support AMLO in any way, shape or form and will oppose his government with violence if necessary.
Whether the new government fulfills its promises toward the indigenous peoples or not remains to be seen.
What indigenous languages are spoken in your area?