Though it’s not well-known by people unfamiliar with Peru’s history, Spanish is not the only language spoken in Peru. In fact, there are several indigenous languages, such as Aymara and Quechua, that are still widely spoken in Peru and neighboring countries like Bolivia.
However, activists and linguists fear that even the more widespread indigenous languages may be in danger of extinction. Miryam Yataco, a Peruvian educator and advocate for the promotion and preservation of indigenous tongues, talked to North American publication Indian Country Today about her work.
Yataco, who lives in New York but frequently travels to her home country of Peru, was raised in a bilingual home, with a Spanish-speaking father and a Quecha-speaking mother. “I grew up in Lima in the 1960s, the daughter of two migrant parents,” she told Indian Country Today, “One was from the south coast, and my mom was from a Quechua-speaking area. I grew up in a bilingual household where the family policy was to hide anything to do with the language of my mom, with Quechua. It is like we were killing that language little by little.”
Yataco helped pass the Law for the Preservation and Use of Original Languages of Peru in 2011, which required the Peruvian government to recognize all of the indigenous languages spoken in the country. Yataco believes that the measure has been an important step forward for indigenous languages and the people who speak them.
According to Yataco, “Language is more important to people’s lives than states sometimes want to acknowledge. And homogenization is a very dangerous force, worldwide […] Even with 13 million speakers, Quechua remains an endangered language. There are areas in Peru where Quechua is thriving, but also areas where Quechua is almost dead […] I hope that 100 years from now in Peru, people are not going to be saying, ‘Quechua was once spoken in this country, and now it’s almost a dead language.’”
With recent reports showing that children who speak an indigenous tongue as their first language are not receiving adequate bilingual education, Yataco’s efforts are more important than ever. To read the entire interview, click here.