CENCLAS: Collaboration for Native Cultures and Languages in the Americas

Indigenous women sell their produce at a market in Tucuru, Guatemala. (Photo by UNWomen.)
Vendors sell their produce at a market in Tucuru, Guatemala. (Photo by UNWomen.)

The Collaboration for Native Cultures and Languages in the Americas (CENCLAS) project gives opportunities and representation to students at UC Berkeley, Laney College, and community members in the Bay Area to study Indigenous Latin American languages and cultures.

Latin America is one of the world’s most linguistically diverse regions. An estimated 30 to 50 million Indigenous people speak more than 550 different languages across 21 countries. In Bolivia and Paraguay, and large parts of Peru, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Mexico, the majority of people have a first language other than Spanish. 

Attention to the linguistic diversity of Latin America challenges the notion of a culturally and linguistically homogeneous region. The study and promotion of Indigenous languages also supports language revitalization in the context of colonization; recognizes and addresses disparities in political and social power that subjugate Indigenous knowledge and languages; and connects community members and heritage language speakers to local and global resources. 

 

CENCLAS Partners

 

The UC Berkeley Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS) is proud to partner with the Laney College Latinx Cultural Center to promote and revitalize Indigenous languages of Latin America. CLAS works to create a community of Latin Americanist students, scholars, and practitioners; to develop innovative policy solutions through our unique network; and to enhance public understanding of Latin American culture and politics in the United States. CLAS is a federally designated Title VI National Resource Center (NRC), and hosts extensive public programming, from public lectures to film series, as well as a range of workshops for K-12 teachers.

Contact: Julia Byrd (julia.byrd@berkeley.edu), Vice Chair of the Center for Latin American Studies at UC Berkeley 

The Laney College Latinx Cultural Center assists Chicanx/Latinx students to be successful at Laney College, serving as a welcome center and information source. The Latinx Cultural Center has six components designed for the outreach, recruitment, and education of the Latinx community with college credit and non-credit courses. Students can also receive assistance in basic skills, English for speakers of other languages, and Spanish for bilingual students.

Contact: Arturo Davila-Sanchez (adavila@peralta.edu), Coordinator of the Latinx Cultural Center at Laney College 

 

Languages

 

Mam

Mam is a Mayan language spoken by around half a million people in Guatemala and Mexico. The Mam diaspora contains thousands of Mam speakers in Mexico and the United States, notably in Oakland, CA, and Washington D.C.

Guatemala has a population of fifteen million people, forty per cent of them indigenous, according to the most recent census. In the past year, two hundred and fifty thousand Guatemalan migrants have been apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border. According to the Department of Justice, Mam was the ninth most common language used in immigration courts last year, more common than French. Three Guatemalan Mayan languages made the top twenty-five: Mam, K’iche’, and Q’anjob’al. [1]

Mam language workshops are offered at Laney College, taught by Henry Sales, Mam-Spanish-English interpreter, and Tessa Scott, PhD linguistics student at UC Berkeley.

More information is available here. This course is organized by the Laney College Latinx Cultural Center and supported by CLAS.

For more information about Mam in the U.S. and the workshops in Oakland, see:

· The New Yorker: A Translation Crisis at the Border (January 2020)
· KQED: Do You Speak Mam? Growth of Oakland’s Guatemalan Community Sparks Interest in Indigenous Language (July 2019)
· KALW: Oakland-Raised Maya Are Bridging The Mam Language Gap In Local Courts (April 2019) 

 

Nahuatl

CENCLAS has opportunities for students and community members interested in studying Nahuatl:

(1) Berkeley is offering Nahuatl to Berkeley students for credit during the academic year as a real-time distance-learning course taught by native-language instructors from the University of Utah and IDIEZ (the Institute for Teaching and Research in Ethnology) in Zacatecas, Mexico. Nahua culture, history, and modern life are at the center of course instruction. 

More information is available here. This course is organized by the University of Utah and supported by CLAS.

(2) Students can participate in Nahuatl courses with Prof. Davila-Sanchez. Offered through Laney College in Oakland, the course this fall will be on Thursdays from 4:00 – 6:00 pm, running from September 3 to December 17.

More information is available here. Please contact Prof. Davila-Sanchez at adavila@peralta.edu.

(3) Students and non-students can audit the Nahuatl courses at the University of Utah by registering for the continuing education section of the course. Seats are limited, participants would have to pay for continuing education enrollment, and no credit is offered.

 
Quechua

More information coming soon. To be connected with the Quechua community at Berkeley, please contact Julia.byrd@berkeley.edu.


Other Resources

 

Indigenous Language Revitalization,
Designated Emphasis of the UC Berkeley Linguistics Department

Program for the Study and Practice of Indigenous Cultures and Languages,
UC Berkeley Joseph A. Myers Center for Research on Native American Issues




[1] Nolan, Rachel. (2020, January): "A Translation Crisis at the Border." The New Yorker.