Preventing Native Languages from Dying Out in Mexico

Primary school students in the classroom where they have Me’phaa language classes, in Nejapa, in the San Luis Acatlan municipality, belonging to the Me’phaa people, in Guerrero State, south Mexico. Photo: Aquilino Martinez Solano / Pie de Pagina

By Kau Sirenio Pioquinto* (IPS)

HAVANA TIMES – Speaking a native language in Mexico means living an isolated life or receiving a maximum sentence in jail for not speaking Spanish. Unless the indigenous person has been to university to “become white” and chances are they’ll be picked out in social groups as the exotic one. 

Indigenous people who don’t speak the language imposed by the Mexican State are put behind bars. The lack of interpreters of native languages deprives them of the right to access the justice system.

Racism and classism in Mexico generate cultural violence and condemn indigenous people to deny their linguistic identity. While institutions seek and administrate justice every day, they move away from the country’s cultural diversity because it’s easier to deny rights than recognize them.

One day, linguist Yasnaya Aguilar told me in an interview for Pie de Pagina: “Oppressed cultural categories such as indigenous communities were made to believe they were inferior.”

Author, Kau Sirenio Pioquinto

It’s interesting that rural populations are discriminated against when they don’t fall under this racial cultural category, yet they are discriminated against because of the color of their skin, for being black or brown, as well as indigenous populations who have historically been a rural people.

The reality is that racism takes on its worse form of discrimination when it comes to skin color, or cultural differences; yet it’s something that people experience every day; a large number of people are being excluded.

The fact that native languages are slowly dying out in some corner of the planet or Mexico isn’t thanks to the Holy Spirit, but because of the burden indigenous people have to carry as they don’t know if they’ll have the means to speak their mother tongue in hospitals or prisons.

The numbers don’t lie, every day two out of 10 indigenous families stop teaching their children their mother tongue, because they don’t want their little ones to carry the same burden of discrimination.

The narrative needs to change in Mexico and cultural diversity needs to start being taught. Native languages dying out is inevitable until this happens, and cultural desertification is more obvious.

According to official documents, 14 mother tongues were spoken in Guerrero 40 years ago, but only four have been spoken in recent years, which are at danger of being lost because of migration and hispanicized education.

Conditions need to be urgently created so native languages don’t fall into disuse and die out in oblivion and speakers neglecting them. The appeal now is for institutions to begin creating publicity in native languages and for the media to open up spaces for diverse journalism.


*Kau Sirenio, journalist from the Ñuu Savi community, Mexico, and expert in indigenous rights and cultures, especially linguistics.

This article was originally published by Pie de Página, on the Mexican platform Periodistas de A Pie.

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