Blog Post #8: Indigeneity and how it affects the world: Aditi Narayan

This summer, seven of our undergraduate teacher education students and one intrepid faculty member are spending a month in Peru studying the educational system and discussing their own philosophies of education. They are writing and reflecting on their journey, and we are following along! Read on for excerpts and blurbs from Dr. Gibson and the students’ blogs. You can read more on Marquette Meets Peru and check back for updates here.  

Aditi Narayan

Even today, parents hesitate to send some of their children to school in fear of the trek being too dangerous. The indigenous communities in the mountains maintained their distance from the outside world in their chilling isolation.

Hello Interwebbers!

We are in Cuzco as we speak, and I am writing this blog post after a long discussion with my peers. The word ‘indigeneity’ came up quite a lot. It is a difficult word to say seeing as we do not use this word in our common conversation. I, for one, have not heard of the word before this trip, as far as I can remember. What does indigeneity mean? There have been many different definitions written out throughout the years by organizations, including the UN. Each of the definitions try not to restrict the meaning of the word, but at the same time attempts to categorize the various aspects of what indigeneity means.

Based on my experience here in Peru, indigeneity is all about the culture and lifestyle of the indigenous peoples of any given nation. I am still unsure of the economy of indigeneity in the Cusco region. Having not been in Cusco for very long, I have not been able to gage the various disparities between the cusquenos as opposed to the indigenous people of the mountainous regions. When we stayed in Andahuaylillas, we got a little bit of an idea as to how there are problems for those who live the indigenous lifestyle and cultures while living in impoverished conditions. Many of the people in the indigenous-populated regions are very poor, and based on history, have been forced to live high in the freezing mountains where nothing grows and depend on the sale of animals and/or textiles to maintain their livelihoods. When the Spaniards tore through South America looking for riches beyond measure, millions of indigenous people were slaughtered by war, starvation, or disease. Others fled for the mountains where they knew the spaniards could not reach them. Even today, parents hesitate to send some of their children to school in fear of the trek being too dangerous. The indigenous communities in the mountains maintained their distance from the outside world in their chilling isolation.

In Lima, within the city, there are a certain amount of economic status levels. However, most, if not all, of the families have a home to live in and have water to use for cooking, cleaning, bathing, etc. In regions like Pamplona Alta and El Agustino, the people there have built their homes and communities from the bottom up, similar to the indigenous people, but they try to create their homes and their communities like the cities around them. There are various educational disparities as well in the educational systems in the various socioeconomic societies in Peru. We have visited schools with extraordinarily high school fees, to schools which cost little to none for students to get an education.

Today, on June 12th, we visited a Cusco Public School. It is funded by the government, but run by a catholic priest to instill religious morals and beliefs. The preschool and elementary students get free breakfast in the morning and the school days have different timings for each level. The students apply to get into the school, but attendance is free. However, the parents pay 20 soles a month for other extra-curricular activities such as sports, english classes, arts, etc. When we sat in on a first grade class today, I was happy with how the first grade students included Spanish and Quechua names for the pumpkin soup that is native to this region of Cusco called, “Sopa de Calabaza” in Spanish and “Lawa de Calabaza” in Quechua. This created a sense of inclusion within the students. Many of the parents here in the city may speak Quechua, but may prefer to have their children learn Spanish in schools instead where it is needed more. The one thing that I found exclusive about the school is that the parents of the children must be Catholic and the children must have been baptized under the catholic church. Peru is a very Catholic nation, taking after the Spaniards that took over and converted many of the people to Christianity and Catholicism in particular. The students who attend the school live mainly in the city and can walk to school, while those students who live further away have to take public transportation. However, they do not have students who live further up in the mountains due to the sheer distance and time it would take to get to school.

I noticed that the first grade teacher encourage the students to use the Quechua name for “Sopa de Calabaza”. Quechua is part of the rich Peruvian history, and is currently a dying language. More and more people prefer to communicate in Spanish rather than Quechua, for fear of being perceived as ‘uneducated’. One thing I learned while living in Lima is that appearances are EVERYTHING to the Peruvian people. Everyone, from the people in the mountains, to the people living in places like El Agustino, to the people living in the city all prefer to dress well when being out and about. So, when people speak in Quechua, some feel ashamed that they do not understand the dominant language, which is Spanish. I still remember Emerson, an education student from the Universidad Antonio Ruiz Montoya, telling us that he went through this experience with Spanish. He told us that he spoke Quechua at home as a child, but when he started to attend formal school, everyone spoke Spanish and he didn’t understand much of anything. Eventually he learned Spanish, and strives to create a better equality and equity for students all over the country. If they learn English, the opportunities even go so far as to increase someone’s chances at getting a job and improving their socioeconomic status.

In the article called “English is like the dollar”, the authors talk about how speaking English has become the “Golden Ticket” to escaping poverty and hard times. The process of Globalization has caused English to become the dominant tongue all over the world. Students all over the world study English as a second language in order to better their chances at moving to a country like the US and getting a good job. In Peru, it is actually required by the national curriculum to teach English starting in pre-school and primary school. However, the article talks about how peruvians travel, or even move, to the US in hopes of finding their new lives, only to be hit with great disappointment that spanish speakers in the US are treated like Quechua speakers in Peru: like second-class, uneducated citizens who refuse to assimilate with the dominant culture and society.

We talked about how US students are praised for learning a new language, while students all over the world are required to learn more than one language over the course of their education and their lifetime. These students who are learning English as a second language, which is a difficult language to learn as a first language at the best of times, get no praise or even recognition for their hard work and their efforts. Many peruvians have apologized to us because “their English is bad”. I tell them that they are still learning the language and that, with further practice, they will be able to know the language better in the future. I tell the university students who told me this to think not of where they are now, but where they desire to be in the future. We get praised here for learning Spanish because we are from the USA, a country that doesn’t even have a national language. Everytime someone from here speaks to me in English to practice their English with me, I provide encouragement and praise. English isn’t an easy language to learn. There are so many rules and just as many exceptions to each rule. Grammar is confusing and formal vocabulary is not the same as common jargon spoken in the US or the UK. They deserve the real praise and reward. They are the majority assimilating to the minority of those who refuse to learn another language.

Until next time,

Aditi Narayan

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