Francisco Icala Tiriquiz spent his childhood as a translator for his family, but it wasn’t until 1995, when he witnessed the interaction between a friend and the police in Los Angeles, that he decided to pursue a career as an interpreter.
His friend, who like him is a K’iche ‘Maya, an indigenous group from Guatemala, was arrested by police who took the loose shirt he was wearing as a sign that he was a member of a gang, said Icala Tiriquiz.
In Spanish, the officers shouted at his friend to raise his hands in the air, although he could only speak K’iche ‘, the language of the K’iche people,’ Icala Tiriquiz said.
Icala Tiriquiz, who was at the time with her friend, began translating for her friend and for the officers, who eventually let her friend go.
But at the end of the meeting, one of the officers harshly advised Icala Tiriquiz to stop speaking his mother tongue and “go study English,” he said.
“I started to think: what should I do? Icala Tiriquiz said of the confrontation. “” Give up my culture, my language and my customs? Or save my culture? “
Three years later, Icala Tiriquiz received a scholarship from the former Monterey Institute for International Studies to train as an interpreter.
After more than two decades of fieldwork, Icala Tiriquiz added the title of radio host to his resume last month with the premiere of a bilingual K’iche ‘and Spanish show on KBBF-FM, the Sonoma County bilingual public radio station. .
The program, which runs from 5 pm to 6 pm on Sundays, is called “Rescatando Nuestras Raices y Tradiciones”, which means “saving our roots and our traditions”.
Topics he has covered so far include the Mayan calendar and the use and benefits of traditional Mayan herbs. In future programs, he plans to host indigenous artists from Guatemala and talk about temazcals, low-temperature sweat lodges, Icala said.
He hopes the program will help young people of K’iche descent who grew up in the United States to learn more about their own culture and history, said Icala Tiriquiz.
He would also like the show to serve as a resource for K’iche natives, some of whom may not speak Spanish, and to instill a sense of pride among those who grew up with the K’iche language, said Icala Tiriquiz. .
“I think for a lot of people it’s something very beautiful (hearing K’iche ‘on the radio),” said Icala Tiriquiz. “It’s a good way for people to value what they have. “
The K’iche ‘people are just one of many indigenous Mayan groups spread across parts of southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and other neighboring countries.
In Guatemala alone, there are 21 different Mayan communities which constitute the majority of the country’s population and about 26 indigenous Mayan languages that are still in use, according to Minority Rights Group International, a London-based human rights organization.
But the size of the Mayan community in the United States has always been difficult to grasp due to language barriers between enumerators and these groups and others, said Marisa Christensen Lundin, legal director of California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. Indigenous program, which provides legal and educational support to indigenous rural communities in Mexico and Central America in the state.
While the U.S. census allows the Mayans to indicate where they came from under the American Indian and Alaskan Natives response to the question on race, a detailed breakdown of the different groups who identified themselves as such. in Sonoma County was not available on the census website.
A 2010 study of native California workers of which the group was a part estimated that there were 165,000 native Mexican residents, including both children and adults, living in rural California, the study showed. Most came from the Mexican states of Oaxaca and Guerrero.
One of the challenges for many people the association works with is accessing information in their native language, as opposed to Spanish, which they may not speak very fluently, Christensen said. Monday.
In Sonoma County, the association worked with indigenous Chatino, Mixteco, Triqui and Zapotec groups, groups from Mexico, she added.
While indigenous peoples who move to the United States from southern Mexico and Central America often face discrimination from Latinos and Americans on the basis of their identity which can lead to shame – Christensen Lundin said also saw a new wave of indigenous youth who proudly embrace who they are, she said.
“We are seeing a resurgence, or a sense of importance and desperation to claim and preserve their languages,” she said.