Ep 9 | Oct 15, 2019


Cecilia Tuyuc and the right of indigenous languages and their people to live on the internet

Cecilia Tuyuc: My name is Cecilia Tuyuc, I am representing two organizations here at the Latin American festival, one is the “Maya Kaqchikel Chixot University” and the other is “Kaqchikel Wikiwuj” which is a small group in which we are starting to make small articles for the Wikipedia to boost that project, since we believe Wikipedia is a good place for our languages to be.

Claudia Pozo: Would you tell us more about the experience of bringing your languages to Wikipedia?

Cecilia Tuyuc: It has been a very big challenge because there are not many people who are committed to writing in our native languages. We have had a literacy process from the Universidad [Maya Kaqchikel Chixot] University which aimed to teach people how to speak the language but not how to write it. Apart from understanding and speaking it, it is necessary and essential to write and read it, and also, that when reading it, people who speak the language can understand it. The Wikipedia project started in 2003 and 400 articles are needed to have that Wikipedia language version to leave the languages incubator. I don’t think that is a large number of articles but it has not been possible to achieve this yet, for the same reasons. There are no people who commit themselves to this, and also since it is a job that is not paid, and considering that the economic condition in Guatemala is terrible and so everyone wants to have an income - and Wikipedia is not a place for this,there aren’t many people who write articles. In the work I do as a teacher at the University and in other spaces, I also participate in creating articles and improving others that already exist.

Claudia Pozo: Under these circumstances this work progress slowly, for sure. In addition to Wikipedia, in which other digital spaces is there content available in your language?

Cecilia Tuyuc: Well, in the digital world we have very few spaces where our languages are present. For example there is a group of young people in the Kʼicheʼ area called “Ki’kotemal TV” who are making videos on YouTube. They have a YouTube channel where they are teaching the K’ichel language. There are also people who upload videos, photos, memes in Kaqchikel and in our languages onto Facebook, with the aim of having fun and for others to have an enjoyable time when they find their languages on these platforms. And then other people also use WhatsApp, I have seen my mom send audios to her brothers in K’ichel language. These are the spaces that make the language available on the internet and also in its written form, right? Apart from these, I have not seen our languages anywhere else. We are also working to create books, magazines, and other manipulable materials for children in schools, so that they have a useful tool. Although it is true that there are some editorials already doing this work, they produce materials that do not reach the communities because we need to buy them, and neither the children or the teachers have economic resources to invest in these materials. Teachers have a very low salary, and investing in pedagogic material means a great cost.

Claudia Pozo: To have contextualized materials is definitely important for learning a language, what other challenges do you see so that indigenous languages can be preserved and shared, both on the internet and in other spaces?

Cecilia Tuyuc: I think you have to start designing new proposals because Facebook is a social network that many use - everyone I know uses it - but they don’t upload content in our native languages. We had a discussion, a debate, among other activities here at the festival, entirely in Q’eqchi’ and from there came the comment: “Why only in Q’eqchi’?”, since the other people did not understand what was happening and what was being said during that activity. Actually, there is no interest in those who speak other languages: a person who speaks Kaqchikel is not at all interested in what is happening with the Q’eqchi’, the Q’anjob’al, and the other many languages that exist in Guatemala. There is no interest because it has not been a priority mainly for the State to recognize that this is a Plurinational State rather than a National State. Since there are several cultures, four nations, and of the four nations the Mayan for example has 22 languages, and of these 22 languages many are on the way to extinction.Because the State does not guarantee that schools can teach these with pleasure, with joy as something that identifies us as a people. Much less there is interest in social networks, because young people have cell phones, but they have to buy the internet to see things, and many of those platforms are expensive, you have to pay something to be able to access it. There are also applications like OKAN, which is an application where the Q’anjob’al is being taught. There are also bilingual dictionaries on the internet, but many people do not know that they exist. Anyway, if we see here in the city, there are not many people interested in our languages. In the capital there aren’t people interested in languages, it’s something that mestizo people are not interested in. If they see someone walking here in the city wearing Mayan clothing they say “and what are you doing here” they tell us that we do not belong to this place and if we don’t, much less our language. So people lack awareness to accept that we are a multiethnic, multilingual country.

Claudia Pozo: So, do you think that the Internet can serve to raise awareness? What else could it be used for?

Cecilia Tuyuc: To make visible what is being done from the communities, since it is a very large network where anyone can see a given content. If I record a video in Kaqchikel and upload it to Facebook, at least there will be one more person who will find out that this exists and he or she will be able to share it and will be interested, and like that another mass of speakers could be generated, people who are interested in a language. For example, we have the Calusac, which is an institution that is authorized by the University of San Carlos to teach indigenous languages, but it is limited only to small vocabularies or things like that, and to learn a language you not only need to know words, but also you have to understand the culture. So it has been very difficult so far. I am a teacher, and at the school with the students we have recorded videos and I have uploaded some to Facebook where you can see them speaking in their language. They are excited to be on Facebook, to have someone else see them there speaking in Kaqchikel - it is good to do a little bit of these exercises so that more people join in speaking the language.

Claudia Pozo: Children are definitely essential agents to preserve a language, what role do you think women have in the transmission of native languages?

Cecilia Tuyuc: In our culture, as in all other cultures, I feel that women have taken a very important role because they are the ones who transmit all this orality and all this knowledge to their children, and that is also due to “machismo”. Because men go out to work and women stay at home. But women have taken a very important role in oral transmission and in the process of keeping history, since it’s us, the women who guard all that knowledge. Starting with clothing, this is something that has already been completely lost among men. Women are the ones who have taken that role, the one of speaking the language. I don’t remember my dad talking to me in Kaqchikel but I do remember my mom talking to me in K’ichel, or listening to her talk to her siblings, and that’s the only way orality is transmitted, right? From practices: let’s go to “tortear” (make tortillas), let’s go to sow, things like that… from these interactions we are also learning the importance of the connection we have both with our family, with our mothers and with Mother Nature. There are no men weavers - or if they exist they are scarce and they are ashamed to say it publicly, the midwives too, who are very wise: you are not going to find a man who does that job. So women have kept a lot of ancient wisdom and I feel that it will be replicated too. I think that women are going to continue resisting and taking this role as guardians of knowledge because men, I feel, have abandoned our traditions a lot, even speaking the language, you find more women than men speaking in their language.

Claudia Pozo: Thank you very much for sharing this space with us, is there anything else you want to say to the people who are listening to this interview?

Cecilia Tuyuc: If this information is going to be shared with non-Mayan people, then I invite them to take an interest. I do not mean that they speak Kaqchikel, or Mam or any other language, but that they are interested in knowing a language, because as I was saying, it is not only learning words but it is also part of the culture and memory of a people that is stored there, and it would be very good if indigenous languages were revitalized and that more people would be interested in them. Even more in the urban areas of the departments and here in the capital, we see that people are not interested for various reasons. So I want to invite you all to join this challenge of making languages visible on the internet, since that is our fight, because all languages have the right to live here.

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