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68 Voces: Women Lead Initiatives to Rescue and Promote Mexico’s Native Tongues

Natalia Bonilla - PRI’s The World
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June 22, 2017

When A Tongue Dies is an animated film in Nahuatl from 68 Voces, a language revitalization project that promotes pride, respect, and use of indigenous Mexican languages, among native speakers, and non-native speakers. (68 voces)

When Gabriela Badillo traveled to Mérida, Yucatán, more than a decade ago, she encountered children who were timid about speaking the Mayan language. As she later came to understand, fear and discrimination were factors that affected the home teaching and use of the region’s native tongue.

“Children were a bit embarrassed to speak Mayan. ... Some mothers opted to not teach them the native tongue to avoid discrimination,” Badillo recalled.

Badillo leads a nonprofit multimedia project to promote Mexico’s 68 native tongues, work she first became interested in as a university student and that has now taken root as a 37-year-old professional graphic designer. “68 Voces” is a series of animated shorts that showcase myths, poems and oral traditions in each indigenous language.

The formal initiative began in 2013, inspired in part by the passing of one of Badillo's grandfathers, who was of Mayan descent. The event changed her way of thinking, motivating her to “have more consciousness of everything that a person entails, for one part the human being and for the other, all the traditions, culture and words that leave with that person or that are lost when one is gone.”

Under the premise, “No one can love what they don’t know,” the project has received help from several entities, including the National Institute of Indigenous Languages, INALI, to travel to specific indigenous communities and encourage youth to help design the short films.

This new phase, which began almost a year ago, quickly revealed the role women play in preserving indigenous languages. “It was very clear to see who were the ones around the children trying to instill in them the desire to learn about their native tongues,” "68 Voces" producer Brenda Orozco said.

According to a 2015 National Institute of Geography and Statistics survey, 25.6 percent of about 120 million Mexicans self-describe themselves as indigenous. Of these, about 7 million are speakers of a native language and, according to INALI, women represent 51.3 percent of this population.

Read the rest at PRI's The World

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