"Lupe", I told her, "we need a Nahuatl class! I hear there's one in L.A, but I don't want to drive all that way."
Nahuatl (NAH-wot) is an indigenous language spoken by hundreds of thousands of people in Mexico. It is the language of the Aztecs and their surrounding peoples. It is the language that gave us the words we know today for chocolate, tomato, chile, and so much more. (My daughter's name, Citlalli, is Nahuatl for star).
Somewhere back in my lineage I have ancestors who spoke Nahuatl. Learning it is like having someone go in and tickle your DNA, a stirring of an ancestral memory that lies deep in your genetic code.
Lupe is a can-do person. She ran with the idea and here I am, learning Nahuatl every Tuesday evening. Class started a few weeks ago and it's magical. Imagine a room full of people, faces of indios, reconnecting with the language of our people. To learn that so many people still speak it is amazing and I sometimes want to break out in tears of gratitude while we're conjugating the verb "to be". (Doesn't take much to make me cry!)
Here is an audio message from me in Nahuatl. I'm still in the kindergarten stage!
(click the little red button to hear it):
Regardless of your roots, I encourage you to learn more about the languages in your lineage. It's empowering and fun to connect with that part of ourselves.
Here's an article that ran in the newspaper on our teacher, David Vázquez Hernández
Monday, August 8, 2005
David Vázquez Hernández
By DORIS BENAVIDES
The Orange County Register
Job title:Nahuatl teacher. Nahuatl is an indigenous language with roots in central Mexico
Company:Working on establishing a Nahuatl Acad emy in Santa Ana
Describe your job:I teach Nahuatl numeric and graphic script, reading of manuscripts (codices), Nahuatl traditions, religion, poetry and music.
Your background?I am a native of a small village of 900 inhabitants in Puebla, Mexico, where the language and traditions are taught by the elders (grandparents and parents). Before the '60s, Nahuatl was an oral language. Then we learned to write it, using pictographs. Most of the Nahuatl speakers are bilingual. We learn Spanish in school, though I did not attend until I was 13 years old. I have served as interpreter in state courts, and have taught Nahuatl at high schools, colleges and universities, including UCLA and UC Dominguez Hills.
Your typical day?I work from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. as a maintenance employee at the Episcopal Church of the Messiah in Santa Ana. The rest of the day I paint my own art. On days when I teach, I dedicate a couple of evening hours to that class. For 37 years, I worked on creating a Nahuatl alphabet and dictionary using Roman characters. I finished it in May and took it back to Mexico, where I travel frequently for conferences about the Nahuatl culture in schools, universities and community centers.
Best thing about the job?The excitement I feel of sharing my culture with people from all walks of life. I enjoy teaching my own people, especially the young ones, how to love their own traditions and how to keep their roots alive.
Biggest challenge?To remain physically and mentally healthy.
How many hours a week do you work?40 hours at my paid job; 15 hours at home, and about two hours when I am teaching Nahuatl.
Advice for someone interested in a job like yours?First and foremost, if there is someone who knows how to read, write and speak Nahuatl, to apply themselves and start teaching it.
What motivates you to do your best?It is in my heart. It is part of my roots. I see myself as a rebirth of my ancestors.
- Doris Benavides/The Register