All ten, five-minute episodes of the documentary film, Dizhasa Nabani/Lengua Viva/Living Language, premiered last night in San Jeronimo Tlacachahuaya. This is an ancient and important village in the Tlacolula Valley, center of the Catholic diocese. The film is in Zapotec, with Spanish and English subtitles. Just wonderful!
Yet, the risk of indigenous Zapotec language loss is powerful here, and in other Zapotec-speaking villages throughout Oaxaca State.
The documentary, produced by Haverford College, Pennsylvania, in collaboration with Moises Garcia Guzman and Dr. Brook Danielle Lillehaugen, professor of linguistics, tells the story about the essential link between language and cultural identity. It features the farming village of Tlacochahuaya where Moises and his family have lived for generations.
I met Moises many years ago in West Los Angeles. We found each other through Facebook. He was living there and working as a Spanish-language customer service translator with Verizon. His mom was in Tlacochahuaya growing garlic on the family farm, while his dad was repatriating after working in L.A., too. We became friends.
When Moises moved back to Oaxaca he started teaching Zapotec to young people and hosting Brook’s university students who were studying linguistics.
Both Moises and Brook hosted the showing of the documentary last night at the Tlacochahuaya cultural center. Townspeople, leaders and Haverford students were there. I brought my young charge, 14- year old Lupita, who had never been to this village, though it is only ten minutes from Teotitlan del Valle.
The Zapotec dialect spoken in Tlacochahuaya is different than that spoken in Teotitlan del Valle. This is a common theme among Zapotec villages. Though they are in close proximity, they have remained isolated from each other, resulting in enough language variation that results in minimal mutual understanding.
My friend Janet Chavez Santiago, who also works with Brook, tells me that many villages have incorporated more Spanish words into the Zapotec language and the original words are lost. As an oral language, Brook, Janet and others have worked together to create a standardized written transliteration and an oral dictionary that is online.
There are sixteen different indigenous languages spoken in the State of Oaxaca, and within each of those language groups there are variations that are significant enough that few are able to understand each other.
I think the key take-away questions for me are: Does language define us? How do we define ourselves? Is language preservation necessary for cultural identity? And, then to ask the ultimate questions: Who am I? Where do I belong? These are the great existential questions of life, continuity and community.
Well worth your time, each five-minute segment takes you into a Zapotec village to meet the people, hear the language spoken, and understand traditional life and the challenges of contemporary cultural pressures.
Episode 5: Dizhsa Nabani–Tlacolula Market
Episode 6: Dizhsa Nabani–The Musician
Episode 7: Dizhsa Nabani–Dance of the Conquest
Episode 8: Dizhsa Nabani–Chocolate
Episode 9: Dizhsa Nabani–Gabriela’s Workshop
Episode 10: Dizhsa Nabani–Zapotec People