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This Latina Is Saving The Indigenous Peruvian Language One Computer Game At A Time

Peru is a country rich in folklore. From Pachamama, a fertility goddess who sustains life, to Señora de Cao, a warrior queen considered the first female ruler of pre-Hispanic Peru, the South American country is teeming with tales that offer glimpses into the past as well as information and inspiration that could enrich its people’s lives today. Cecilia De La Fuente-Gorbitz doesn’t want these stories, and the cultural knowledge and pride they could induce, to get lost in time, so she started The K’uychi Project.

Launched in 2017, the project, which began as a children’s book, has turned into a multiplatform undertaking that uses technology and didactic materials to teach indigenous Peruvian culture and language.

“I wanted to research Peruvian folktales. I said to myself, ‘kids all over Peru know European folktales like Cinderella and Snow White, yet, in Peru, which has such a rich heritage of these stories, they are virtually unknown,” De La Fuente-Gorbitz, an anthropologist and artist, told FIERCE.

That’s when she started writing “K’uychi and the Awki.” The book, which she plans to self-publish in April, tells the story of K’uychi, a mythical young girl who embarks on a quest to find water after her village has been hit by a drought. On her journey, she meets friendly creatures who guide her to a mountain spirit, the Awki. The bilingual storybook will be available in print with side-by-side text in Quechua and Spanish as well as in digital form in Quechua/Spanish and Spanish/English.

De La Fuente-Gorbitz, who wrote and illustrated the book, also created an accompanying simple-objective, one screen game. Through the K’uychi Mini Game, available on Google Play, users move K’uychi from side to side to help her collect raindrops and avoid Kon, the Peruvian god of rain and wind who became vengeful after humans stopped giving him offerings, from falling on her. During the game, K’uychi says different words in Quechua, like “haylli,” or “bravo,” when she collects a raindrop, or “sonqo,” “heart,” when she gets a red heart. Soon, De La Fuente-Gorbitz, who has computer programming experience, plans on releasing a more advanced, platform game, where the player helps K’uychi complete various levels by using the right Quechua word.

Courtesy of Cecilia De La Fuente-Gorbitz

For the Peruvian-born, New York-based creative, technology, like video games, is both an interactive tool to learn and preserve culture as well as a way to challenge notions that Peruvian traditions are antiquated.

“When people go to Peru, they focus on archaeological sites: museums that show artifacts from so long ago. That’s great, but people need to understand Peruvian culture is not dead, and it doesn’t need to be buried in a museum. It can be a part of the modern world,” she said.

While English is widely considered the language of the modern world, De La Fuente-Gorbitz wants Peruvian youth, many having been taught to abandon the indigenous tongues of their parents or ancestors, to understand that these languages remain spoken throughout South America today. In fact, about 4 million people in Peru speak Quechua, one of the most dominant tongues of the highlands of South America, and about 4 to 8 million more speak the language across the Americas. For her, this is evidence that widely spoken indigenous languages are neither obsolete or outdated.

“Peruvians, even with traditional culture, are also a part of the modern world. We are alive today. People till this day communicate in Quechua, so it’s important to bridge that gap and give a way for these voices that have been isolated from the rest of the world and from people’s eyes through technology,” the 27-year-old said.

De La Fuente-Gorbitz’s primary objective for the project is to offer much-needed representation to Peruvian youth. By sharing little-known parts of their history through characters who look like them and share similar experiences, she hopes it will instill self-confidence and inspire them to fight for the preservation of their culture and language.

“We are a country that for decades, centuries, has been minimized in a way, that has looked out to Europe, or the US more recently, instead of looking at our own national identity and taking pride in it. You can see that in the movies, shows and media we watch,” she said. “And I think that affects people, especially children growing up with images that they are somehow not good enough as they are. They don’t see themselves reflected and are constantly being bombarded with an image they will never be able to attain.”

While the creative started The K’uychi Project for youth in her home country, she believes that it could also benefit children and adults of the Peruvian diaspora. While studying in the United States, De La Fuente-Gorbitz, who is currently interning at the Peruvian embassy in Washington, DC, has noticed that unlike in Latin America, where most people identify by the country they were born in, people in the US, especially Latinxs, don’t often refer to themselves as Americans. Regardless if they were born in the US and only speak English, they largely identify with the nationality of their parents or ancestors, hyphenating themselves as Mexican-Americans, Cuban-Americans or Colombian-Americans.

For her, this self-identity is a result of diasporic Latinos being othered in their birth country because of the color of their skin, surnames or the cultural practices of their families as well as a disconnection from both the land they know and the faraway one of their predecessors. She believes a project like the one she has created could help them feel more rooted.

“I noticed a lot of Latinos want to understand their roots. They have a real genuine interest to reconnect with the land they or their parents emigrated from, and I feel there’s not that many sources of information for them to do so. So my project could help them feel more pride in themselves, how they look and gain self-confidence, and assert that, ‘I am valuable,’” she said.

She’s already finding proof of its effectiveness. In addition to her book and game, De La Fuente-Gorbitz also has an Instagram account that she uses to teach Quechua through vibrant images that illustrate the meaning of words and share its Spanish and English translations. With terms like “Warmi” (“Woman”), “Puñuy” (“to sleep”) and “Wawa” (“baby”), she is educating followers, many of the Peruvian diaspora, on common vocabulary, numbers and verbs in Quechua. The response, she says, has been all positive, with one fan even telling her that she once felt ashamed for not knowing her ancestors’ native language and now feels like she has an outlet where she is able to relearn and return to what was lost.

De La Fuente-Gorbitz, who herself is not a native Quechua-speaker and has leaned on a friend, Helberth, for translations, says she hopes to expand The K’uychi Project and create bilingual stories, games and language lessons in the indigenous tongues of Peru’s coastal, Amazonian and Andean regions.

For her, linguistic diversity makes us as a people smarter, stronger and more united.

“The way we think, our worldview, has to do with the language we speak. We can learn so many different things and broaden our horizons just by understanding someone else’s point of view, and this wouldn’t be possible if we restrict native language use and restrict people’s identities,” she said.

“K’uychi and the Awki” will be available for purchase in Peru and online spring 2019.

Read: In New Jersey, Rosa Carhuallanqui Keeps Her Culture Alive By Teaching Children Peruvian Folkloric Dance

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Mixe Author Yásnaya Aguilar Says Mexican Government Killed Off Indigenous Languages In Powerful Speech

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Mixe Author Yásnaya Aguilar Says Mexican Government Killed Off Indigenous Languages In Powerful Speech

Indigenous languages are often characterized as archaic, a connection to a past life, certainly not thriving cultures and communities that exist in a modern society. But this mentality isn’t just wrong; it’s also dangerous.

In a powerful speech delivered by Mixe author Yásnaya Aguilar to Mexico’s Congress last month, the writer explains that in the country, where indigenous languages are largely viewed as backwards, the state has killed off certain tongues.

“Our languages don’t die out, they’re killed off,” she said. “The Mexican state has erased them with its singular thinking, its [promotion of] a single culture, a single state. It was Mexico that took our Indigenous languages, [Mexico] erases and silences us. Even though the laws have changed, it continues to discriminate against us within its educational, health, and judicial systems.”

According to Aguilar, known for works like “Nosotros sin México: Naciones Indígenas y Autonomía” and “#Ayuujk: ¿Lenguas Útiles y Lenguas Inútiles,” by making Spanish, a language forced on the people of the region five centuries ago by Spain, the most important tongue of the nation, the state has created a culture where language discrimination can flourish.

“Languages are important, but their speakers are even more important,” she added. “Languages die because their speakers are subjected to discrimination and violence.”

For Aguilar, the country would thrive if it recognized the beauty and strengths, rather than challenges, that come with a multicultural society.

“Being Mexican is a legal status, it’s not a cultural status,” she added.

Watch Aguilar’s thoughtful speech in its entirety in the video above.

(h/t Remezcla)

Read: This Latina Is Saving The Indigenous Peruvian Language One Computer Game At A Time

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In Atlanta, Peruana Curator Monica Campana Is Creating Space For Public Art

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In Atlanta, Peruana Curator Monica Campana Is Creating Space For Public Art

Street art has evolved from illicit graffiti tags on New York City subways to intricate murals that businesses now pay to have painted on their walls. Across the country, neighborhoods throughout cities like Miami, New York, Los Angeles, Cincinnati, San Francisco and Austin are beaming with visual goodies that demand the attention of busy pedestrians who spend arguably too much time staring down at their smartphones. But while some might view these artistic treats as beautifying and revitalizing neighborhoods, for communities whose walls are being turned into canvases, oftentimes without their input, it’s the first sign of gentrification, a process that can make them feel like strangers in their own ‘hoods, or worse, force them out of their homes. In Atlanta, a city blooming in street art, Living Walls is a nonprofit organization ensuring that the people’s voices aren’t lost in public art projects.

Founded in 2010 by Monica Campana and Blacki Migliozzi, Living Walls facilitates the creation of intentional, thought-provoking public art that activates communities and prompts social change. The organization seeks local, predominantly, as well as national and international artists of diverse backgrounds and connects them with community members, who influence the themes and approach to the public pieces. Through their annual Living Walls Conference — a festival-like event that invites artists to create pre-planned murals, sparks conversations between creatives and art scholars, hosts art tours and screens films — as well as commissioned special projects for leading businesses and organizations, Living Walls pays artists to enliven Atlanta’s buildings and structures.

“Me and my team believe art is an agent for change with the ability to unify or bring communities together and have a message, and so we try to engage in projects that will have some sort of social change aspect, so everything we do in our community-based projects have intentions that are specific to the place we are working in. It’s art, yes, but art highlighting a community, culture, issue or protest,” Campana, the executive director of Living Walls, told FIERCE.

(Art: Kristin Ferro | Photo: Courtesy of Living Walls)

Campana, a Peru native, accomplishes this by organizing various conversations, through town hall meetings and neighborhood association meetings, between residents and prospective artists whose identities, experiences and/or values match those of the community they will be working in. Through these discussions, which last for a minimum of a year, though smaller, commissioned work may only take up to about three months worth of negotiating, communities and artists work together to develop a shared vision and solve problems.

In 2017, for instance, Campana took the conference to Buford Highway, Atlanta’s most diverse immigrant community, where she brought together local and out-of-state artists who are immigrants or children of immigrants to engage and build with the largely foreign-born Latinx and Asian inhabitants of the area to design murals that they are excited about.

One artist, a local Vietnamese-American printmaker named Dianna Settles, spent time at Athena’s Warehouse at Cross Keys High School, a nonprofit that educates and empowers underserved teen girls, where she engaged with immigrant and first-generation girls of color about the issues they were dealing with, particularly immigration, violence, invisibility and responsibility. The conversations led to a stunning floral mural of two women, one brown and one Asian, representing beauty and resilience.

(Art: Dianna Settles Photo Credit: Dyana Bagby)

“We believe in artists, the artists we work with, and if they have an idea, and it’s intentional, then we want to support it,” Campana, 36, said.

For the curator, art is a tool for social change, especially when it comes to widening representation. By giving people of marginalized backgrounds a paintbrush, and allowing them to express themselves publicly, Campana believes we open society and culture up to different perspectives, and that these new references can radically improve or validate the lives of other community members who have also long felt invisible.

“Art can be a tool for social change by just giving people a platform to express themselves and create projects in an inclusive way and giving the mic to people who don’t usually get to have it. Aside from that, if it’s not a representation thing, I do think art is a tool that lets you see hope or experience things you never thought of. It’s a door that gets to someone that no other tool can,” she said.

That’s exactly the role art played for Campana when she and her family moved from Lima, Peru to Orlando, Fla. as a teenager. Forced to attend a new high school in an unfamiliar country, she couldn’t relate to the culture, the language or the customs, and as a 15-year-old, an age that already brings an onslaught of identity issues regardless of one’s zip code, Campana was miserable.

(Art: Martha Cooper | Photo: Courtesy of Living Walls)

“When you come to the US from a completely different country, the easiest thing you can do is blend and assimilate, because it’s scary not to belong, especially at that age. I did not know what depression was until I moved to the US, and I experienced that at 15,” she said.

She eventually found a panacea in art. Failing most of her classes, art was the only subject the young Campana excelled in. A long-time drawer, her hobby took new meaning when her teacher, who saw how distressed Campana was, introduced her to Frida Kahlo. Learning about a woman who, like her, rebelled against social standards of womanhood and experienced immense grief, and who employed art to reconcile her feelings and express herself, allowed her to similarly use art as an outlet.

“I don’t think I would be as stable, emotionally and mentally, as I am if it weren’t for me finding a tool that would let me feel a pride in my abilities, in myself, in where I come from,” she continued, noting that the works of Latin American and marginalized artists allowed her to unlearn much of the negative messages she had received about her own Peruvian culture and status as an immigrant.

It wasn’t until a decade later, however, when she co-founded Living Walls, that she started to finally feel like she found her place in the US. She was 25 and recently relocated to Atlanta, where she dropped out of art school for the second time and left a long-term, toxic relationship. She was unhappy and picked up an extra job at a coffee shop to distract her from her pain. There, she met another artist who was disgruntled with the scene, and together they started making street art. It wasn’t great, she says, but it was exhilarating. So much that Campana sold her car in an effort to explore the city she was painting through biking. Seeing Atlanta through the lens that a city planner might, Campana grew excited about all the possibilities in Atlanta but wanted a grassroots response to the corporate “beautification” projects that were beginning to pop up in the city.

(Art: Kristin Ferro | Photo: Courtesy of Living Walls)

“I wanted to build a healthier and welcoming city,” she said, describing her earliest hopes for Living Walls. “In all honesty, it was a selfish reaction to wanting to feel like I belonged and I was at home.”

Since starting the organization almost 10 years ago, Campana and her team, which now comprises of three full-time staff and three contractors, has helped facilitate about 150 public art projects throughout Atlanta. Her DIY initiate has grown into a business that earns revenue through collaborations with big brands like Google and Mailchimp and pays all the artists it works with.

Looking excitedly toward the future — she’s currently working out the details for having an Iranian artist paint a mural at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport’s security checkpoint — while recalling all she has already been able to accomplish, Campana is pretty incredulous about Living Walls’ success.

“Maybe it’s because it’s so different, because it’s a lot of girls, because it’s a Peruvian girl from the south. But people see how special Living Walls is. I know how special it is,” she said.

Read: Meet Karina Yanez, The South Central Educator Teaching Students That Art Can Be A Tool For Social Change

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