My name is Henry Sales and I am from a small town in the highlands of Guatemala called San Juan Atitán. I grew up with the name Mintz, a name that was given to me by my grandparents. When I moved to the city to learn Spanish, I was taught to be ashamed of my Mam language and culture. Every time I spoke Mam (a Mayan language) in Guatemala, I was a victim of racism and discrimination. I moved to Oakland, California in 2011 and I always had in my mind that if I didn’t speak Spanish, I was stupid. However, as a native speaker of Mam, I never wanted to give up on my language and culture. I wanted to stay alive along with my culture. It hasn’t been an easy journey to keep my language alive. As one of the newest immigrant communities in Oakland, we the Mam students and people face great barriers to prosperity and power. Those barriers include language, as many speak Mam only, and are not fluent in Spanish or English. Another barrier is literacy, as many men, women, and youth never attended or completed school, because we come from impoverished backgrounds where work was prioritized over education. Our biggest barrier is oppression, as we come from a place where, as indigenous people, we are discriminated against. We the Mam people are afraid to raise our voice due to these various challenges. I highly believe that by providing an opportunity for us to practice our language and celebrate our cultural traditions, we foster a sense of pride in our community, and help our Mam students recognize their own strength, beauty, and power.
April 6, 2021