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Latin America’s indigenous communities in action

How many of you knew that 2012 is International Year of Indigenous Communication?

Al Jazeera’s Manuela Picq wrote an article last month entitled “A dynamic year of indigenous communication,” which detailed how indigenous communities around the world are using media to spread their messages and aid their causes. “Communication is a powerful tool,” Picq writes. “Media created by indigenous peoples are informed by alternative world-views, transcending borders and challenging hegemonic histories.”

The forces of media indigenous peoples are utilizing include film, community radio and music production. Picq calls these created media “a tool for self-determination in many ways. It is an important first step to revive languages that may otherwise disappear.”

Of course, if we want an example of an indigenous language that has not only survived but also thrived, we should turn our attention towards Paraguay. Simon Romero for the New York Times writes that “Paraguay remains the only country in the Americas where a majority of the population speaks one indigenous language: Guaraní. … It is a source of national pride,” spoken by about 90 percent of the population, even though only 5 percent of the population is indigenous.

Although Paraguay is a special case, since the fight for power between the Spanish and Jesuits within the territory seems to be the biggest factor in the dominance of the indigenous language, the need to retain indigenous languages as a crucial cultural signifier is an easily understood one. For many Latinos in the United States, passing on the Spanish language is key to maintaining a sense of cultural inheritance.

Al Jazeera itself has documented the importance of inculcating pride in indigenous languages to younger generations, both in Bolivia and Guatemala, as part of their “Living the Language” series. In my initial reaction to the program, I commented on the fact that, in such communities, Spanish is the language of the oppressor — a relic of colonialism.

Indigenous peoples are using every tool available to them to safeguard their culture and increase their visibility, because they are fighting back against a series of systemic disadvantages. These communities are still living the effects of genocides and other racially aggravated crimes, as well as barriers to economic development like prejudice.

At the beginning of the year, Roots and Wings International posted an article entitled “Ten Things You Should Know About Indigenous Issues.” The tenth item on the list was perhaps the most important. It stated that “it is important to think about indigenous peoples as a vibrant part of many societies and countries today, not just a thing of the past” (emphasis on the original).

This is especially exemplified by the incorporation of a changing media landscape by indigenous communities into their activist work. They are not only adapting to these changes in technology; they are employing them for their own advantage.

Even though the International Year of Indigenous Communication may officially be winding down, we can rest assured that we are only seeing the beginning of the movement.

About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.


  1. Good to know.

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