PUEBLA, Mexico – After asking Genaro Medina Ramos why it was important to preserve indigenous languages in Mexico, he responded instantly and slightly resented in his native Nahuatl: “tleka moneki timomakistisjke” (“we have to free ourselves”).
Medina Ramos, who comes from a small town on the slopes of the Iztaccihuatl volcano, in central Mexico, has been a Nahuatl teacher for over 20 years, remaining attached to his culture that he passes on every day to his family and students.
In his home, Genaro’s children and grandchildren are told to speak in Nahuatl, to make sure they learn the language properly.
“We were deceived into thinking Nahuatl had no value, that it was for irrational people, but today I realize it is very valuable,” the language teacher told EFE.
According to Mexico’s National Indigenous Languages Institute (Inali), 364 indigenous languages and their variants are spoken in the country, divided in 68 linguistic groups, 64 of which are at risk of disappearing.
Before the Spanish conquest, it is estimated that around 500 indigenous languages and their variants were spoken in what is now Mexico, which began to disappear during colonial times.
From the 16th century onward, over 100 languages and their variants were lost.
Preserving Mexico’s pre-Columbian languages is a task that many people with similar histories as Genaro’s have taken up.
For instance, Daniel Cuaxiloa and Rigoberto Dominguez, who studied mechatronics in Puebla, designed a cellphone app called Tozcatl that helps users learn to speak and write Nahuatl.
The app can be downloaded for free on Android phones and is designed for beginners.
“It is a tool to help you learn your first Nahuatl words,” Diego told EFE.