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Connecting Andean Voices and Heritages

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Color photo of children, mostly girls, wearing bright red sweaters over white shirts in a street festival; one in the center holds a woven basket
Children dressed for Ecuadorian National Day, in New York City, 2021. Photo: Camilo Vergara.

This is a guest post by Giselle Aviles, a reference librarian in the Hispanic Reading Room of the Latin American, Caribbean and European Division.

The Hispanic Reading Room has a new research guide, Interconnecting Worlds: Weaving Community Narratives, Andean Histories & the Library’s Collections. This guide, with resources in English, Spanish and Quechua, facilitates research about Andean peoples through language, literature, visual arts and music.

We used video interviews to connect with Indigenous people from Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru and their communities in New York, Massachusetts and the greater Washington, D.C. area.

My field of study is anthroplogy, but I am also trained in documentary films. When I looked at our Indigenous digital collections, I couldn’t help but feel they were disconnected from the communities they represented. So in creating this research guide, I envisioned resources in languages that represented the communities in their home countries and in the U.S. as a way of making the items in the collections – photographs, maps, books and so on – come alive. I wanted these communities, like all others, to feel like we were preserving their stories in their voices. That’s what the national Library is supposed to do. Three interns — Monica Soto, A.B. Bejar, and Pamela Padilla — worked with me and did an incredible job in 10 weeks of summer internship!

The guide is divided into eight sections with an introduction to the Andean world followed by themes of language, storytelling, poetry, arts, photography, textiles and music.

In Runasimi: the Language of the People, Dr. Américo Mendoza-Mori, professor at Harvard University, explains the importance of “creating more spaces to recognize disciplines and traditions of knowledge that for so long were overlooked or just seen as objects of study.” For him, “the displacement that many heritage speakers requires healing. And through that healing process we open up and we bond.” He hopes this work will help Quechua speakers and their descendants in the U.S. to contribute to the continued relevance of the language.

This section also includes the experience of Shana Inofuentes, co-founder of The Quechua Project, a non-profit that promotes use of the languague in the D.C. area, home to the largest Quechua community in the U.S. As Shana shares, “There are many families in our community whose parents maybe don’t speak Spanish as their first language, or not much at all, or maybe learned it when they came to the U.S. I have friends who just learned Spanish when they came to the U.S. because they only spoke Quechua back home.”

In Yachaysapa Willakuykuna: Andean Life & Memory through Storytelling, Elva Ambía, director of Quechua Collective of New York, narrates how the library in her community wouldn’t accept books in Quechua. Her persistence, social activism and help from her family overcame that, resulting in the inclusion of 30 Quechuan books in that library. Ambía is also the author of “Qoricha,” a children’s book about friendships, written in Quechua, Spanish and English. Jessica Huancacuri read parts of it as part of our project.

In Taki Kapchiy: the Sounds of the Andes, Peruvian musician Renata Flores shares the importance of Quechua in her songs. Here it is in Spanish and then in English:

“Siento que esa identidad que tenemos con el Quechua debería ser cada vez más libre y deberíamos hablarlo con más libertad, porque es algo que nos representa, es algo que que es nuestro, que son nuestras raíces, que no se debe perder. La música ha sido una manera para mí, para poder sentirme orgullosa de quien soy y de dónde vengo. Y sé que muchos de nosotros lo vamos a sentir igual. La música andina transmite todas esas emociones y pues para las personas que saben hablar Quechua y que todavía tienen la oportunidad de hablarlo con fluidez, de practicarlo, de, de poder enseñarlo, también les diría: ama penqa kuspa kaych’achawpiy rimaykusun, que no se avergüencen de hablar en Quechua, que no tengan miedo de hablarlo y practicarlo porque es algo tan bello que no se puede perder.”

“I feel that the Quechua identity should have more freedom and we should speak the language more freely, because it is something that represents us, it is something that is ours, our roots, that should not be lost. Music has been a way for me to feel proud of who I am and my origins. And I know that many of us will feel the same way. Andean music transmits all those emotions and so for the people who know how to speak Quechua and who still have the opportunity to speak it fluently, to practice it, to be able to teach it, I would also tell them: ama penqa kuspa kaych’achawpiy rimaykusun, to not be ashamed to speak Quechua, to not to be afraid to speak it, and to practice it because it is something so beautiful that cannot be lost.”

Questions about the project? Use our Ask A Librarian service. It puts you in touch with a reference librarian, just as if you walked into the Library. Tupananchiskama! See you later!

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