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The Jaime Lucero Mexican Studies Institute Blog
Blog Post by Yohan Garcia (Hunter College, 2014 CUNY Becario)
I was born and raised in Puebla, Mexico. In my country, I was unable to finish high school because of my family’s economic hardships. I always longed for greater opportunities and I knew I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. Determined to resume my education and make something good of myself, I immigrated twelve years ago to the United States, in pursuit of the American dream.
Once I arrived in the U.S, I secured my first job as a dishwasher at a diner. At first I became disillusioned and lost sight of my goal of becoming an educated person. I had to face many obstacles in my way. Thankfully, my family never lost faith in me –they reminded me that I had made this journey to accomplish my dream of becoming a successful professional, and that I had the potential to conquer my goals. Being undocumented has made it more challenging to achieve my goals. Like many undocumented immigrants, I was forced to live in the shadows because I lacked opportunities due to my immigration status. Although, many of us are required to deal with the fate we are handed, we should not let our current circumstances determine our future. We have the power to change them.
Thanks to the Becari@s Scholarship Program, I’m finishing my last year as an undergrad at Hunter College without worrying about the cost of tuition. I am grateful to the Jaime Lucero Mexican Studies Institute and donors for their generous financial, and professional support to all the Becari@s. With hard work and determination, I have been able to change my life. As a first generation college student, I appreciate my efforts being recognized. However, there are many other undocumented students, especially Mexican students who have not been able to move forward because they lack the opportunities due to their immigration status. I am very grateful that I was given the opportunity to intern at LULAC Queens Council 23047. LULAC Queens Council 23047 recognizes that education is key to success; we continue to increase our educational opportunities for the educational attainment of Mexican students and their access to better jobs.
As the Mexican community grows its population share in New York City, LULAC Queens Council 23047 also highlights the importance of citizenship. Low propensity to naturalize dilutes the potential political influence of our community and hence deprives it of a major channel of demand-making and collective mobility. Further, citizenship is shown to result from a boost in the income of immigrants; therefore, it is essential that we put pressure to the state legislature to pass more immigrant friendly employment legislation. Also driver’s license legislation for both documented and undocumented immigrants would aid in the attainment of better jobs. These laws would bring significant economic gains in terms of growth, earnings, tax revenues and jobs.
I look forward to continuing my work as a community activist in order to protect and secure our civil rights in areas such as immigration, social services, education and economic opportunity. As immigrants we might not have everything we wished for, but we have courage and passion to follow our dreams and we never give up!
Blog Post by Areli Morales (Brooklyn College, 2014 CUNY Becaria)
¡Si Se Puede!
This August over half a million individuals celebrated two years of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program (DACA). The DACA program has provided work permits, driver licenses and protection from deportation to many people that call this country their home. Although this program does not provide a path to residency or citizenship in the United States, it has given me the courage and strength to continue forward. This program has opened a door of opportunity but I believe there are many others to be opened along the way.
I remember as I anxiously waited at the DMV to obtain my state ID. How easy it was to fill out that social security section with a nine-digit number that I had just received a few days before. I recalled when I use to panic and stress out every time an application required me to submit a social security number. I was afraid to admit that I in fact did not have one. At one point, the lack of owing a social security number almost caused me to give up my efforts to continue my studies. I had assumed that not having a social security number meant that I would not be able to gain a college degree or even obtain a job in my desired field.
However, my perspective changed once I received my approval for DACA (Deferred action for childhood arrivals). I simply rejoiced of happiness once I received that precious letter that stated that my case had been approved. With shakings hands I immediately called my mom and told her “¡lo hicimos, mamá!” It was that letter that had altered my life in a very bright and promising direction. With the fear and the burden lifted away from my shoulders, I quickly gained the confidence to continue to obtain high grades and apply to college. With the help of the CUNY Institute of Mexican Studies and many other gracious donors, I will attend my first semester at Brooklyn College this fall as a recipient of CUNY BECAS. This will allow me to spend more time focusing on my studies and less time worrying on how to pay my tuition. As part of the scholarship, I eagerly hope to intern at an organization that will allow me to help the hispanic youth achieve their career goals and hopefully encourage them to attend college as well. I look forward to spending this year, and hopefully many years to come, surrounded by my Becari@s family. So far they have provided me with support, motivation and inspiration to make a difference. I am glad to have met a great group of individuals during a new chapter of my life. I also look forward to enriching seminars, fundraising events and gatherings this year. I am truly grateful, excited and mostly proud to be a Becari@ of 2014-2015.
Blog Post by Arianna Flores (Brooklyn College, 2014 CUNY Becaria)
On June 24th of 2014, I graduated from Fort Hamilton High School, in Brooklyn, with honors and at the top seven percent of my class. My parents watched me with joy and excitement as I walked down the aisle to receive my diploma. Reality hit me on stage, I was finally graduating and the stress I went through during college admissions was worth it. I wanted to cry out of happiness as I stared at my parents who were in the audience supporting me; my father was holding flowers while my mother was taking pictures with enthusiasm. Throughout high school they were my main inspiration, and there was no doubt about it, they were very proud of me. Graduation was a decisive moment in my life. I was making history in my family and a difference in my community. A chapter of my life ended, but a new one has begun from the moment I walked out with my diploma in my hands.
This fall, I will be attending Brooklyn College as a first generation college student and as a young undocumented woman. As the first one in my family to go to college, I hope to pave the way for my eleven-year-old brother who looks up to me. Enrolling at Brooklyn College is my way of telling my parents that all of the sacrifices they made were not in vain. Nonetheless, applying to college was not easy. Being considered as an international student when applying to higher education institutions, somehow reminded me of the fact that undocumented students are still not considered as part of America, despite of growing up in the United States for most of their lives.
Even though, the path for undocumented folks is still rocky, there had been some improvements in resources and opportunities to lessen the hardships our status represents; the amount of scholarships available for young undocumented immigrants has increased. In my case, being awarded with scholarships like: PTK (Power Through Knowledge) and CUNY Becas, has allowed me to fund my first year of college. Both scholarships have been a great blessing for me, however, CUNY Becas has become more than just a scholarship. The purpose of the CUNY Becas is to provide undocumented people with a support system to grow and develop into future leaders. Through this scholarship, I have been able to find a group of people I can identify with, network, and use as a guide for my college career. In addition to this, we attend monthly seminars and do internships with nonprofit institutions that best fit our interests in order to meet our professional goals.
For college, my interests lie in the areas of Political Science and Latino studies, therefore, I have been granted the opportunity to intern at the YA-YA Network (Youth Activists-Youth Allies) beginning from the month of July until now. The YA-YA Network is a well rounded program that educates, and trains young people to become activists in the movement for social and economic justice. Being part of this program has been such an eye opening experience, where we unpack issues like stop-and-frisk, immigration, racism, gentrification, climate justice and military recruitment. YA-YA represents a safe space in which, I can freely share my ideas and thoughts with no fear of being judged. Moreover, the diversity of the interns I work with has taught me meaningful things regarding finding one’s inner voice and reclaiming our roots. Being surrounded by people who are culturally aware inspires me to further explore my Mexican heritage and culture.
I am grateful to be part of CUNY Becas, because it has granted me economic support and academic advisement, and it has opened the doors to new opportunities and experiences like my internship at the YA-YA Network. However, not all undocumented students have the chance to be part of programs like CUNY Becas due to funding limitations. According to the Immigration Policy Center, “Each year, approximately 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school, many at the top of their classes, but cannot go to college, join the military, work, or otherwise pursue their dreams.” Here, CUNY Becas has made me the exception, thanks to the aid I have received, I will be able to go to college and not be part of this statistic. Overall, the path to higher education is difficult, but undocumented students are capable to make it through. Anais Nin once said, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” It is up to us to keep pushing and never, ever give up!
Blog Post by Nancy Lopez Ramirez (City College, 2014 CUNY Becaria)
Blinking lights that turn off when a destination has been reached represent different stops across New York City. For me, they represent communities I have gotten to know. I will not go in depth about the train stops I have gotten off to transfer to another train, but about the moment when I was uncertain about my future. The stop in the Bronx represents the meaning of graduating from high school and attending college as a transfer student. I doubted my abilities because I would enter with a declared major. I thought I was not giving myself time to explore my options but then I began thinking about my family, college counselor, teachers, and individuals who have believed in me before they knew I was an undocumented student. They are part of the electricity that makes each light turn symbolize a stop in my map.
The lights started flickering faster when I found out that I was awarded the CUNY Becas Scholarship...I received the email when my mom was cooking dinner and my dad was untying his shoes from a hard-working day. I cherish the happiness that I saw in their face and the congratulations that I received at my high school. I became part of a community, through this scholarship I became a Becari@. I was able to bond with professors, staff, current and past Becari@s that make up the CUNY Institute of Mexican Studies during the three-day orientation that was held in Frost Valley, New York. As everyone took in the beauty that nature had to offer, our bond grew stronger as we participated in icebreaker activities and conversations held in groups to learn about who we were, who we wanted to be and, most of all, the positive impact we want to make as a community.
This was just the first stop to a train that was accelerating and it’s wheel turned with excitement. As a Becari@ I realize that I represent the Institute and will be working with the Becari@s to create events, fundraisers and advocate for our communities. The first event took place in La Casa Azul Bookstore, founded by Aurora Anaya-Cerda. We participated in the bookstore’s Summer Series Concert, where artist held a concert in the weekend and while we were in charge of selling food and drinks. I was happy to participate and became aware of the bonds that the CUNY Becas creates among its candidates. In the concert that I participated the musical group Radio Jarocho, gave a modern touch to the traditional Son Jarocho music created in Veracruz, Mexico. When I began to hear the rhythm that was made by the stroke of the guitar and the melody of their music I was reminded of the importance of my roots and in my mind the sound echoed miles away.
I am overjoyed to be part of a community that has goals to accomplish. Although, we have just gotten started I have meet some of the individuals that support the Becari@s and want to see us succeed. The CUNY Institute of Mexican studies has given me the opportunity to share my uncertainty and be answered with optimistic replies. Thus, the blinking lights in my map represent the stops that I have yet to explore.
Blog Post by Maria Xique (Baruch, 2013 CUNY-IME Becaria)
Thanks to the CUNY-IME Scholarship program from the CUNY Institute of Mexican Studies, I was able to attend my first semester of graduate school. I’m currently enrolled in a masters program in Public Administration at the School of Public Affairs in Baruch College. The CUNY-IME scholarship I received not only helped me pay for my first semester but also has brought me new friends and contacts. In addition, thanks to the CUNY-IME scholarship, I was able to do an internship at the Mexican Consulate where I learned more about the Mexican Community.
At the Mexican Consulate I had the opportunity to learn about the different services the Consulate offers to all the Mexican community. My job at the Consulate was to do research about the educational programs New York City offers to all New York residents. In addition, I also had to translate the information into Spanish. Using my research I was able to provide assistance to the people who went to the Consulate seeking information about college, GED, English classes as second language, Plazas Comunitarias, and Deferred Action.
The CUNY Institute of Mexican Studies thought CUNY-IME Becas provides an open door with many opportunities. For instance, it offered me the relief of not having to worry for a while about financing for a semester of graduate school. Aside from the economic relief of having a semester assured with the scholarship, the Institute has also provided me and my fellow becari@s with monthly seminars. At these seminars we met different people that advised and counseled us about college, the work field, and about the do’s and don’ts in succeeding in life. Two of the workshops that have helped me in many ways are the workshops given by Carlota Zimmerman J.D. and Richard Alvarez, the University Director for the City University of New York. Carlota Zimmerman gave us a workshop about the job search process and the right methods in using LinkedIn. Richard Alvarez gave us a workshop about the college application process. These two workshops helped me so much because thanks to them and the Institute of Mexican Studies I am better informed about the college application process and the job field. Furthermore, with this information I am now able to help students who are applying to college.
It fills me with so much enthusiasm that the CUNY-IME Scholarship program exists today! Because like me many other students can benefit from this open door opportunity that the Institute has created for the Mexican and Latin American Community.
Blog Post by Emilia Fiallo (Hunter College, 2013 CUNY-IME Becaria)
The Importance of Mentors in the Life of a College Student
If you could write a letter to yourself after your High School graduation, what would you say to your younger self? Perhaps you would tell yourself to work harder, to exercise more and eat better food, to prioritize better, to take more challenging courses in college, to participate more, and to pace yourself along the way. We all remember that glorious day when we threw our caps in the air, picked up our diplomas and promised our friends we would keep in touch. The possibilities were endless and we felt unstoppable like the world was really in our hands. At least that’s how graduation was supposed to feel. Looking back at my high school graduation, I remember feeling alone and indifferent to the exciting path that lay before me because deep inside I knew my road to college would be like climbing up a steep hill, already tired and unmotivated. For an undocumented student like me, the road became difficult especially without a mentor for guidance and advice.
Undocumented high school students and their families face a tremendous financial burden when it’s time to pay for college since financial aid and TAP are not open to undocumented students. Although financing our college education is a struggle, the most challenging obstacle is a lack of mentorship and guidance when navigating life after high school. As an undocumented student I needed someone that I could count on when I needed special advice on my options when choosing a major, how to pick the right courses, how to balance work and school, and what scholarships were available. I stumbled my way through most of college and even though academic advisors are on campus they weren't always available or I would be assigned a different one each visit. The difference between an advisor and a mentor is that a mentor is willing to commit and dedicate his or her time to you and check in on you and follow your progress in college.
When I found out I had been awarded the CUNY IME Becas Scholarship Program I felt grateful to know that I had a whole community that was willing to donate their time and money in order to put me and other students through college. It meant that I was given a chance to go to school for an entire school year without sitting in class worried about my next tuition payment. It was a great feeling. The most exciting aspect of being a Becaria is the mentorship I have received so far. I remember a time when I was extremely stressed out about school and I was pushing myself to my limits. I took a trip to Lehman College and had a meeting with Professor Alyshia Galvez, and we spoke about the importance of enjoying college and how to prioritize taking care of our mental health. I left that meeting feeling energized and finished the semester strong with straight A’s. In the different seminars that have taken place throughout the year, we have met amazing community leaders, authors, entrepreneurs, professors, and students that not only inspired me to work hard but have offered their emails and personal phone numbers in case we ever need anything. In the last seminar we met Carlota Zimmerman who taught us how to build our professional profile and what we can do to achieve our career goals. We've also met people like Aurora Anaya-Cerda, who launched a campaign to raise funds and open La Casa Azul Bookstore, a literature/cultural hub in El Barrio. I've also met amazing students along the way and I find that we all have a lot in common; the drive to finish college and do it with our heads held high. The CUNY IME Becas scholarship has been a wonderful experience filled with amazing people that have taken care of me as a student beyond what I ever could have expected.
Blog Post by Juan Mejia (College of Staten Island, 2013 CUNY-IME Becario)
Coming from a family of nine brothers and sisters money has always been tight. When my siblings and I graduated from high school my parents told us they would support us in every way, but we would have to pay our own tuition if we wanted to attend college. It would be impossible for them to pay for all of us on their salaries. To save enough money I had to work multiple jobs and miss a couple of semesters. I used this time off to think about what career I wanted to pursue when I started college. Being awarded the CUNY IME Beca Scholarship and becoming a Becario was such a surprise, and perfect timing! During that time I was struggling to save enough money for the upcoming school year. This scholarship allowed me to focus more on my studies and schoolwork instead of worrying about how I was going to pay for my next semester.
Not only did the CUNY IME Becas allow me to continue my education, but it also opened many doors for me. Through the scholarship I was able to intern at the Queens Business Outreach Center, a non-profit organization that works with small businesses. This organization helps businesses run more efficiently and helps them to apply for loans. As a business major this was a great experience. I had the opportunity to see and learn about the many aspects of running a business, what start up businesses have to go through to try and run a successful business and the requirements needed for them to get a loan. I also had the chance to sit in on the many workshops the organization held on how to manage your own business.
CUNY IME BECAS has given me a place where I am surrounded with like-minded individuals, a network of people who want to be successful, who help others, and dream of a better future. If I had to pick the best part of being a Becario it would have to be the seminars. It is in these seminars that I get to interact, share ideas and learn more about my fellow Becari@s. The best part of the seminars is having the honor of meeting such admirable individuals who share valuable advice, inspiring me with their words and sharing their stories of success and how we can also become successful. I can truly say these individuals have influenced me to become a better student and a better person. I have always dreamed of doing something great, something no one has ever done, and to change things for the better. I am still not sure exactly what that is, but I feel that with the new people I have met to back me up I can hopefully achieve it one day.
Blog Post by Luba Cortes (Borough of Manhattan Community College, 2013 CUNY-IME Becaria)
One cold October morning my mother woke me up and told me that we would be embarking in a journey. I remember seeing my grandmother crying, but at the mere age of five I did not understand what her tears meant. The journey my mother was talking about was coming to the United States. I learned the language quickly and excelled in all my classes, but my lack of status prevented me from enjoying opportunities given to students with excellent grades such as studying abroad. It was not until my junior year of high school when my peers were getting into universities like MIT, while I had to contemplate whether I could afford going to school, that I realized how unjust the laws in this country where.
Through very hard work my mother was able to round up the money to pay for one semester of college. Although I had good grades and loved my school we could not afford a second semester and I had to wait another year until I could go back.
Through my work as an organizer at this wonderful organization called Make The Road NY, I found a community of people who embraced me and encouraged me to not fear my status. Because of this newfound power in me, two months ago I engaged in civil disobedience. I did this because I believe that our government has failed us, it has failed the 1,100 undocumented immigrants that are being deported every day. It has also failed the families that are left behind trying to fill the voids that their loved ones left. But most importantly I did the action for my mother; who is the most important person in my life, my rock, my anchor, and the one person that will always love me unconditionally. She is the woman that held my hand as we crossed the border on a cold October night when I was five years old and reassured me that we would be okay. The one person who put her dreams aside so that one day I could realize my own. That night in December I honored her sacrifice, but I am not done repaying everything that she has done for me. I will not stop fighting until I see my mother is able to work without fear, travel without fear, and finally become a citizen of the country that she has called home for the last 14 years. I will not stop fighting until my community no longer feels afraid to embrace their undocumented status for fear of persecution and separation.
I thank the CUNY institute of Mexican Studies for their warm welcome and encouragement. For being the beacon of hope that I needed in order to go back to school and for providing me with a safe space to share my story.
Blog Post by Angy Rivera (John Jay College, 2013 CUNY-IME Becaria)
Many assume that because I’m undocumented I don’t have a voice. I often hear some refer to people like me as “voiceless” or “invisible”. There is always a need to give me a voice, to humanize me, to speak out for me, and to advocate for me. What many fail to see is that I can do all that for myself; if only they stopped to listen. At some point in my life, I also thought I was voiceless.
When I was younger I wasn’t undocumented and unafraid, I was very afraid and ashamed. I thought this status was a curse, but I know see how it is also a blessing. I have a love/hate relationship with being undocumented. While it has kept me from many opportunities and has limited my existence here in the United States; I’ve also learned how to fight for my rights and education. I’ve met a lot of amazing people because of the path my immigration status has taken me on.
The CUNY Institute of Mexican Studies awarded me one of their scholarships this year and I’m so thankful for that. The scholarship allows me to not worry about financing my education for a little while. It means one year of not stressing over money so much. To focus more on school and my career. It means one year of being able to invest more into my community.
I decided to volunteer with the New York State Youth Leadership Council (NYSYLC), a non-profit organization led by undocumented youth working on creating equal access to education for all regardless of immigration status. I had already been volunteering there in a different area of the organization; so I switched over to organizing.
As a fellow for the organizing section of the organization I was able to work alongside other youth, many of whom are undocumented as well. Together, and with the help of the CUNY Institute of Mexican Studies, we organized the NYSYLC’s first ever Dream Team Convening. There are Dream Teams in various campuses and high schools, several Becari@s met at these clubs. The clubs have created a safe space for undocumented youth in school. A space for them to meet each other, share stories and resources, cry, make friends and become unafraid. The convening would put all these Dream Teams under the same roof in order to provide each other with the skills necessary to stay active. Many students find themselves dropping out of high school or college because of the lack of community, Dream Teams are there to change that.When the Dream Team Convening finally took place I couldn’t help but feel honored to be surrounded by such amazing individuals. Young people who are ready to change the culture of their campuses. Who are no longer afraid or ashamed to be undocumented. Who are stepping up and claiming the respect and dignity they’ve always deserved. Who are pushing for the New York Dream Act and/or creating their own scholarships while they wait for the state to provide support. They’re a force to be reckoned with.
We are standing up and being our own advocates. We are using our power and our voices to push for the changes we wish to see in our community, and in our state. We are creating spaces and opportunities that didn’t exist before.
I’m thankful to the CUNY Institute of Mexican Studies for their constant support and for believing in the power of education for all. Their scholarship program and educational events show that by providing the necessary tools, students are able to succeed.
Blog Post by Jasniya Sánchez (Baruch MPA, 2012 CUNY-IME Becaria)
Balancing work as a private Math Tutor, volunteering at Qualitas of Life Foundation as Academic Coordinator, attending graduate school part-time, working along side fellow youth and students at MAYAS (Mexican American Youth Advising Students) promoting education, family and friends is not a walk in the park, but all of these experiences haveleft me with valuable lessons learned and have made me a better person.
Through all the ups and downs brought about by juggling all these responsibilities I would like to highlight the following experiences:
1. Winning the IME Beca & Inauguration of the CUNY Institute of Mexican Studies at Lehman College
2. Being the Academic Coordinator at Qualitas
Winning the IME Beca & Inauguration of the Institute of Mexican Studies at Lehman College As a Mexican citizen living abroad, I was extremely happy and proud to hear about the creation of the IME Beca for Mexican citizens in need of financial aid to continue/start their college education. and immediately visualized a brighter future for the Mexican community of this great city! For me IME Becas symbolizes hope, opportunity and believe in the talents and dreams of young Mexicans like myself. When I received the amazing news that I had been one of the selected winners of the first IME Becas to be awarded ever by CUNY and the IME, I was overcome with great joy and also an enormous sense of responsibility came over me.
When I learned about this great initiative I assumed the responsibility not only to make good use of the award granted, but also to make my country and community proud. It is every IME Becario's responsibility to make our community proud, inspire future generations to reach for the stars and lend a helping hand to those that are following our footsteps. I am proud to be Mexican and call myself an IME Becaria!
2012 was surely a very promising year for CUNY and the Mexican community in New York City, which not only saw the IME Becas come to life, but also celebrated the inauguration of the CUNY Institute of Mexican Studies at Lehman College. As a CUNY student and Mexican, I could not have been more excited and proud! I see the CUNY Institute of Mexican Studies as the home away from home for all of those Mexicans living in the great city of New York and the place to highlight and share the beauty and richness of our culture to future generations and the world! For all of this and the great team at the Institute, I am very proud and humble to have been elected to be part of the executive board and will do my best to help the Institute fulfill its mission.
Being the Academic Coordinator at Qualitas Volunteering at Qualitas has been such a rewarding experience since I started being involved with this amazing organization since 2009. In 2012, as the Volunteer Academic Coordinator at Qualitas of Life Foundation I had the great opportunity and challenge to coordinate their financial education programs. This task consisted on training and managing facilitators, maintaining relationships with strategic alliances, scheduling workshops, conducting workshops, revising and creating educational material and my personal favorite interacting with our workshops participants. Being part of a small organization, I was exposed to all different aspects that make up a nonprofit organization. As a Master in Public Administration student I could not have asked for anything better than being part of an organization like Qualitas, where I have learned so much in a short period of time. Today, I am proud to say that the shy girl, who could not speak in front of a small group of people, now is able and very much comfortable speaking in front of large audiences whether they are workshop participants, board members during Qualitas' board meetings, Qualitas' annual reports or delivering a speech at CUNY's college fair for the Mexican community. This is just one of many examples where Qualitas has given me the opportunity and challenge to take charge, believe in myself and shine! All of the staff that has come through Qualitas since my arrival in 2009, board and committee members, alliances, volunteers and facilitators have always been supportive and a pleasure to work with, thank you! I look forward to continue my work at Qualitas in 2013 now as part of the staff!
Oh 2012, by far you have been one of the most challenging, yet the most rewarding year yet to come for me. As a Master in Public Administration student (Baruch College), young professional, Mexican citizen, New Yorker, Latina and immigrant, if I had the opportunity to go back and do it all over again, I would not change anything about you. 2012, you were perfect with all your imperfections, thank you! Now I can't wait what 2013 has in store for me.
Read more about Jasniya here.
Victor Pajarito (Lehman BA Linguistics, 2012 CUNY-IME Becario)
*Our first blog post for the CUNY Institute of Mexican Studies Blog*
Discovering my Nahuatl Roots
“Nitze! nehua notoca Victor, tehua keni ti mo toca? kentika? Kuali?”
(Hi, my name is Victor, what is your name? how are you? Good?)
It was a Wednesday afternoon and I had just gotten out of my French class at Lehman College. As luck would have it, I still had one more class to go. But this next class wasn't just any other class; it was my first Nahuatl class, talk about being out of the ordinary. My Nahuatl class was back in Brooklyn, where I live, at Mano a Mano: Mexican Culture Without Borders, an organization that offers Mexicanidad, courses in various cultural subjects like music, dance and language. Everyday I dread that near two hour commute from Brooklyn to Lehman and then vice versa, but luckily for me I had my iPod with me. As I turned it on to listen to the few Nahuatl songs that I had, I began to melt down to the melodic voice of Lila Downs. I couldn't help but to realize that I was minutes away from immersing myself in a completely different and new language, the language of my ancestors – the Aztecs.
Being that I’m a Linguistics major, I have been exposed to and have studied various different languages myself, but Nahuatl was unlike anything I have ever witnessed or studied before. How I found myself dabbling into Nahuatl was not by chance, but I feel, for the most part, it was because of fate. I was recently fortunate enough to be given a scholarship by the Mexican government, and as an “IME Becario” (Institute for Mexicans Abroad scholarship winner) I was also placed in an internship to become more active in the Mexican community. The internship that I chose was to work with the CUNY institute of Mexican studies, to organize their indigenous languages campaign. I thought this internship would suit me best, because it combined my love of languages and linguistics along with my love to help people and my community. My task is to help organize several events and workshops that will help raise awareness about Mexico’s rich linguistic diversity.
A lot of the time people think that just because one is Mexican, or comes from Mexico, Spanish is the only language that they speak. In fact Mexico is home to various indigenous languages like Nahuatl, Zapotec, and Mixteco, to name a few. Many times Mexicans who only speak an indigenous language get the short end of the stick and are stuck with providers who only speak Spanish and have no knowledge that they may speak an indigenous language. For this reason they often get stuck with Spanish interpreters at courts and hospitals. I want to be able to help these people, and I believe that the first way I can help them is by raising awareness about Mexico’s indigenous languages. This is the reason why I felt the need to learn an indigenous language, to put myself in their shoes and mentality so I can understand the indigenous population better, at least on the linguistic level.
The train had arrived at my stop and soon after I was a block away from the building. As I walked up the stairs to the room where the class would be held at, I jumped for joy on the inside. The teacher came in and to my surprise didn't have a professor or teacher type of feel when he taught, it seemed more like he was engaging us in a conversation, while learning through that dialogue. Immediately the first thing we learned were the personal pronouns “Nehua (I), tehua (you singular), yehua (he,she,it), Tehuan (we), Mamehuan (you plural), and Yehuan (they).” We learned that there are different ways for saying things in different parts of Mexico where they speak Nahuatl and that they are not necessarily wrong, just different, because people speak differently.
We also learned our first Nahuatl words, which were the words for flower “xochitl,” book “amoxtli,” sand “xali,” mother “nantze,” and father “tastze.” I saw some of the other students struggling to make sense of the different sounds and structure of the Nahuatl language, but I think that the reason for that had a lot to do with the fact that many of them tried to bring Spanish elements into Nahuatl and were reluctant to the fact that they are two complete different languages. Soon after, the first lesson came to an end, and by the end of it I found myself able to introduce myself in Nahuatl and greet someone. As I was leaving the class, a news reporter from Televisa, a Mexican news network, asked if she could get a few words from us, as to why we were taking the class and what did we think of our first class. Two weeks later I got home late and saw that my family was Skyping with my family members in Mexico. Through Skype my aunt told me that my cousin told her and the rest of the family that his high school teacher mentioned me in his class. She said that she saw on the news a young man who was from Mexico, now living in New York, who is learning Nahuatl, and how remarkable it was that someone so far away was learning a language that not many people there bother to learn. She remembered my name and my cousin immediately shouted that he was related to me. My aunt said that I have made my family in Mexico very proud. But I think I have made my Aztec ancestors even more proud.