Explorando y conociendo nuestra cultura náhua
Photo by Jennifer Lainez, LAI

Explorando y conociendo nuestra cultura náhua

Estudios de caso

The 2018 Nahuatl Conference, organized and sponsored by the Western Alliance for Nahuatl, featured several panelists with the first focusing on the exploration and learning of modern Nahua culture.

"There is a new wave of indigenous intellectuals writing about Nahuas in modern times." -Abelardo de la Cruz, PhD, State University of New York, (translated by Nancy Alcaraz).

Story by Nancy Alcaraz, LAI Intern

UCLA Latin American Institute – May 4, 2018, - Various professors, academics, and students gathered to discuss their research focusing on the Nahuatl language and culture. This conference was made possible by the Latin American Centers at UCLA, Stanford, University of Utah, along numerous UCLA partners, and the Instituto de Docencia e Investigación Etnólogica de Zacatecas (IDIEZ) who seek to further Nahuatl research and encourage its study. Kevin Terraciano, history professor and director of the UCLA Latin American Institute, and Hector Calderon, chair of the UCLA Department of Spanish & Portuguese, and Reynaldo Macias, professor in the UCLA Cesar E Chavez Department of Chicana/o Studies department, gave the opening remarks welcoming those present and emphasizing the importance of the discussions to take place. 

The first panel, "Explorando y conociendo nuestra cultura náhua: Estudios de caso" included three speakers who presented case studies exploring Nahuatl culture. They elaborated on Elotlamanah, a traditional corn festival and ritual, the woman's role in Nahuatl culture, and a historical take on the intellectual movement and education of the Nahuatl language. Eduardo de la Cruz, part of the University of Warsaw and IDIEZ, spoke about the celebration of maiz. To researchers and academics, the festival might come off as a simple gathering, but to the nahuas of Chicontepec, it is a sacred ceremony that honors the divinity of the deity Chicomexochitl. In the Chicontepec region, this god of corn is both a young girl and boy, represented accordingly through paper cuttings and cobs during this festival and similarly in a ceremony where natives ask for rain.  

Alberta Martinez Cruz, also part of IDIEZ, examined the role of the woman in Nahuatl culture. In the 1930s, Tepoxteco, Chicontepec was a town of 500 inhabitants and the primary responsibilities of the Nahua woman were to be a mother, a housewife, and a helping hand in the fields from time to time. There was not much educational opportunity for women from that time until the 1980s. The main education given to young girls was given by the mother in the instruction of how to be a good housewife. Although primary school was introduced in 1969, many girls were still not allowed to attend as oftentimes fathers did not deem it important. At the age of 14 or 15, fathers began arranging marriages, and education was not a priority. Middle school was introduced to the community in 1989, followed by high school in 1994, and it was during the 90s that the perception about women in education began to change. With the migration of people to cities, the idea that a woman could not go out into the world by herself began to shift. Women began to head families and become leaders in the community as time went on and continue to do so today. 

Abelardo de la Cruz, of the State University of New York, continued the dialogue speaking on the further education of Nahuatl culture and language after the '90s. De la Cruz began with a brief historical overview of the academic study of the language. In the early twentieth century, academics from Europe began studying historical documents written in Nahuatl from the colonial period. Later in 1930, North Americans began taking an interest in Nahuatl from a linguistic perspective, but it was not until the '70s that Mexican academics began collaborating with foreigners on the Nahuatl study. The next decade, the communities of Chicontepec came to light, which for years had not had contact with outside cities, and in the 90s and later 00s there were Nahuatl academics, scholars, and artists who began contributing to the further academia of the Nahuatl culture and language. The study of Nahuatl then can be understood from three different perspectives according to de la Cruz, from foreign academics outside of Mexico, those within Mexico, and up and coming Nahuatl academics. Today de la Cruz is optimistic about the continuous development of Nahuatl and believes that the Nahuatl academic community has a consciousness that did not exist in the past and will only continue growing. 

Several other speakers examined other Nahuatl subjects regarding new projects such as a Nahuatl dictionary produced by IDIEZ, digital resources to study Nahuatl, and phonetics and linguistic aspects of the language. The final guests were two current UCLA doctoral students and one law student who ended the conference with presentations about migration of Nahuatl speakers to Central America, the unifying power of Nahuatl for its community, and the further advancement of the language at UCLA. This conference was part of a two-day event that continued the following day at La Plaza de Culturas y Artes in downtown Los Angeles with events and activities for attending families.  

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Duration: 01:02:03


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