March 4, 2005

Indigenous groups struggle to maintain their traditions

By Luis Alonso Pérez

In México, like many countries around the world, indigenous groups that survived the extermination or slavery from colonizing nations have been forced to fight to keep their culture and traditions alive. Unfortunately, they have been gradually loosing their fight to the mighty empires or governments that wanted their culture to disappear, and force the natives to change their ancient ways, so they can become citizens, workers and consumers of our “modern societies”.

According to reports from UNESCO, Mexico has lost around 110 native languages, two of them –chiapaneco and cuilateco– vanished just last century. The latest reports show that at least 14 minor languages are in serious risk of disappearing. This frightening scenario has made the United Nations assign February 21st as the International mother language day, with the intention of promoting the protection of the language and traditions of indigenous groups around the world.

Julio Lopez y sus hijos - Comunidad Purepecha de Rosarito

As part of the worldwide celebrations, the Tijuana Cultural Center hosted a meeting of members from Baja California’s native groups and members of indigenous groups from southeast Mexico, that continue struggling to keep their traditions alive.

The event took place last Saturday February 26th. Members of the Kumiai, Kiliwa and Pai-Pai communities joined members from Purehpecha, zapoteco and mixteco communities living in Baja California. Each one had the opportunity to talk about their culture and oral traditions as well as the problems they face from modern societies like discrimination and abuse.

Julio López belongs to a Purehpecha community –originaly from Michoacan– based in Rosarito. He and his family work with their “paisanos” to keep their traditions alive and make their children feel proud of their heritage, so when the moment comes, they can pass on their knowledge to future generations. “It’s a shame to see our traditions gradually disappearing, like a dam that’s drying out” said Julio.

Traditional chanting and dancing groups from the region topped off the event. One of them is the Pai-Pai dancing group Xumrsi Xarsill, which means, sunrise star. Delfina Albañez has been part of this group since she was a young girl. Her grandfather is the chief of their community and one of the only two men who knows their mother language. He used to teach their traditions to children in the community, but he is an old man now and his health doesn’t allow him to continue with this labor.

“There are many differences between (indigenous) groups, but I’ve noticed that we are all proud of our language, music, chants and clothing. Most of us decided to participate for our children”.

For Baja California’s native communities, the largest threat to their traditions is the lack of education. Most kids don’t have appropriate educative services nor have a program that contemplates their culture and traditions.

Ana Gloria Rodriguez belongs to the Kumiai community in San Jose de la Zorra, where they have developed an educative program about their language, dances and chants. This project has been operating for quite some time now, but now they have a Monday to Friday class of approximately 40 students, most of them young kids. “We don’t have resources for many basic things like chairs or a blackboard, but we have no other option” said Ana Gloria.

Their struggle continues and the future of their culture is still at stake, but the spirit and hard work from indigenous groups will maintain their traditions for many years. The question is for how long?

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