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Thu Aug 31, 2017, 10:56 AM

WHY THESE MEXICAN WRITERS ARE DITCHING SPANISH FOR INDIGENOUS LANGUAGES

WHY THESE MEXICAN WRITERS ARE DITCHING SPANISH FOR INDIGENOUS LANGUAGES

By Theo Ellin Ballew
THE DAILY DOSE
AUG 14 2017

It was standing room only in the Los Angeles Central Library last July. The crowd of some 300 ranged from multigenerational Mexican immigrant families to young Californians of indigenous Mexican extraction to academics, some of whom had traveled across the country for the event. The participants enjoyed readings of poetry and short stories and a rap performance by Pat Boy. And yet none of the material was in Spanish — it was in Zapotec, Tzotzil, Mayan and other languages spoken long before Europeans washed up on the shores of what is now Mexico.

Octavio Paz, Juan Rulfo, Rosario Castellanos, Carlos Fuentes … Mexico’s Spanish-language literature is one of the richest in Latin America. But for hundreds of years, the literature written in languages that existed before European colonization were all but silenced on the global scene — even though they were well-recognized by many Mexicans. Now, interest in this writing is surging worldwide. And it has its own rich history: In some traditions of pre-Columbian Mexico, when an estimated 130 languages were spoken, books were bound in deerskin, students were obliged to memorize poems and songs, and a misused or forgotten word was considered a cause of illness or death.

This increase in global interest can be seen in the surge in translations. Sales figures and other data are difficult to come by, but book lovers in New York can find English or Spanish versions of contemporary literature written in Mazatec, which is still spoken by 220,000 people, mainly in northern Oaxaca. In Berlin, you can find German translations of works written in Purépecha, aka Tarascan, which is spoken by some 125,000 people in the highlands of Michoacán.

According to Janet Martínez of the Frente Indígena de Organizaciones Binacionales, who organized the conference in Los Angeles, international publishers have yet to realize the potential size of this growing market. David Shook agrees. A translator and co-founder of Phoneme Media, a nonprofit in Los Angeles that is the foremost publisher of Mexican indigenous language literature in the U.S., Shook was shocked when he sold all 750 copies of the first edition of Like a New Sun, an anthology of contemporary poetry published in 2015 and originally written in Huasteca, Nahuatl, Zoque and other languages. Natalia Toledo’s collection, The Black Flower and Other Zapotec Poems, sold at least that many copies, Shook says, and was shortlisted for the 2016 National Translation Award.



More:
http://www.ozy.com/fast-forward/why-these-mexican-writers-are-ditching-spanish-for-indigenous-languages/75743

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