I’m excited to finally have my official Mosqoy blog debut, as I’ve now been a Mosqoy volunteer for almost two years. Up until this April, I’ve known Mosqoy from the Victoria side, as the Administrative Manager, taking care of office and organizational details (not much interesting to blog about there). Since April, however, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to live and work in Peru as the Quechua Language Empowerment Fellow. For the past few months I’ve been working on a number of exciting projects well-suited to a language nerd like myself, and I’m here now to tell you about one of them.
Over the Summer, I held a day of workshops with the Mosqoy students to boost their pride as Quechua speakers, and to give them skills and opportunities to use the Quechua language practically. In the morning, we had a great conversation about minority language rights and the benefits of bilingualism. I was pleasantly surprised to hear the students talk about how much pride they already have in the Quechua language. I was prepared for them to have internalized some of the stigma around the language that I’ve noticed since being in Peru. What great evidence that our students really are cultural leaders!
For example, when I showed them a poster that I’d spotted in Ollantaytambo, the students immediately had a lot of criticisms about the way it suggests that the Quechua language is a detriment to academic success. (The poster says: “Children from isolated, indigenous communities spend their days surrounded by Quechua speaking adults. It’s a beautiful language but in Peru the language of education is Spanish. In the Quechua speaking, highland community of Huaran, we’re working with local women to staff a “play-in-Spanish” pre-school. These are women who want their children to move through the Latin world with confidence. Spanish fluency is a crucial first step.”) In fact, bilingualism has many academic benefits that our students were already aware of!
Of course, everything is more interesting with a little controversy, and we did have a few chances to debate the merits of fighting an uphill battle to preserve Indigenous languages. By the end, however, when the students were presenting their experiences as Quechua speakers, everyone had something positive to say and demonstrated how much they value their language. Here’s my favourite quote from those presentations:
“Up until arriving to the project, sure I knew Quechua but I didn’t give it the value that it deserves and which I give it now… When I arrived to Mosqoy my way of thinking changed a lot, because I had the opportunity to travel to communities like the Mapacho River Valley, and I saw that the Quechua language isn’t just any old thing, and that you can’t be made to feel worse for being a Quechua speaker… Taking those trips has inspired me and given me more pride in being a Quechua speaker. Compared to people who don’t know Quechua, I feel like I have more advantages because I know this language… I have friends that’ll say, “and what does that word mean?”, and I say, “if you don’t know Quechua, you’re not Cusqueñan, quite simply”. And above all, the only thing I can say is that being a Quechua speaker doesn’t make you less, it makes you more, because you know something of which other people don’t have the same privilege – how to speak Quechua.” - Clayda
We changed course after lunch to talk about some practical things that the students can do with their bilingual abilities: interpretation, translation and transcription. All of the students already have experience with interpretation from accompanying us on our monthly visits to our five weaving communities, so we talked about how to be the best interpreters possible. To begin the conversation, we played a game of ‘interpretation telephone.’ In this game, we passed a sentence around the circle by whispering it to each other, like in traditional ‘telephone,’ but with the added element that it had to be interpreted each time between Quechua and Spanish. Comparing the differences between the sentences at the start and the end of the line showed how important it is to be accurate in interpretation.
Finally, we talked about some upcoming projects that the students can help us with, including helping with our future goal of having our website in four languages: English, French, Spanish, and Quechua!
Until next time – hasta luego – tupananchis kama!