Sunday, January 24, 2016

Guidxi Binnizá – the people of the clouds

Last, and most definitely not least by any measure, the binnizá, the people of the clouds, the Zapotec. Our experience of Oaxaca, but rather specifically of Juchitán, cannot be understood without talking about the local culture and language. 

Though native languages are spoken by some 10 million people in Mexico, their real political and social weight varies immensely from place to place. Zapotec is spoken all over Oaxaca, and the differences between different geographical varieties is similar to the differences between Romance languages – like between Portuguese and Spanish, French and Italian, Spanish and French, Romanian and the others; sometimes it's small, sometimes it's huge, but there's always a relationship. And in this Zapotec-speaking universe, Juchitán is one very special place.

We heard Zapotec in the market. I was told Zapotec was used for a sarcastic comment at a wedding. The (Spanish) poems of a poetess who also writes in Zapotec had a markedly different quality from her not Zapotec-writing counterparts at a poetry event we attended... 



At the anniversary of a movie club at the main square, over half the songs were in Zapotec...




In a documentary shown at that same anniversary, Zapotec was spontaneously spoken by a number of interviewees.




Many places had Zapotec names. Youth that didn't learn Zapotec from their parents – due to a temporary perception of the language as a negative asset – are learning it on the street as a code language. People who want the slightest of chances at politics in Juchitán must speak Zapotec, at the very least for the openings of their speeches. Zapotec is written, spoken, broadcast. It's an essential and vital part of this region's culture, and I'm convinced our cultural experience would have been very different if the local language had succumbed to the massive onslaught of the omnipresent Spanish language.

I consider myself very privileged for having this experience, not long after our trip to Yucatán. This, the indigenous side to Mexico's fabric, is something I had barely had a chance to have a peek at. And this experience (and Yucatán's) has deeply enriched my understanding of Mexico. Like I said, I consider this a privilege. I'm honoured. And grateful.

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