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Speak Quechua: Interview with Noemí Vizcardo

Noemí Vizcardo is no stranger to Global Voices. Her blog Habla Quechua – focused on helping Spanish speakers learn Quechua – is one of the few, perhaps the only, penned in Latin America's most-spoken indigenous language. She is a lawyer, translator, and professor of agrarian law. Peruvian contributor Juan Arellano recently interviewed [ES] Vizcardo to find our more about the state of Quechua online.

You are well-known in the Peruvian blogosphere for your work of spreading and promoting Quechua. What does this language represent and mean to you?
Indeed my incursion into the world of weblogs is thanks to the diffusion of the quechua language through that medium, which motivates to me to publicly express my appreciation; the meaning of quechua in my life is like sap to plants; it is the elixir that strengthens my personality by the generosity and wisdom that it contains. Quechua is my spiritual sustenance, the love that sings me to sleep and the truth that guides me; which is to say it is the ideal materialized in everything I am and do.

How did it develop and how do you maintain such large interest in this language of our ancestors?
Quechua, for me, is connatural. That is, it was always was present since I was conceived, because I come from a bilingual town where the common denominator is oral communication in Quechua; even though, in my house my father prohibited that we speak it because of the generalized and flawed concept then of Creole society; that it was a language of the “Indians”, a term that contemptuously was associated with the beasts of burden or inferior beings – similar to the humans – but without rights. It was thought that although they could speak, they only spoke brutalities and ignorance. The generalized idea was that they did not understand pain, and that their humiliation was met with the silence of Quechua speakers. Their rights were not recognized; even in these times there are people who have this sad concept [of Quechua speakers]. You do not know how my heart is squeezed and shaken when I imagine the suffering this cruelty caused.

What was your approximate history with Quechua?
Up until I was eight-years-old, when I left my parents’ home to go to live in Peru's capital, I recall that every period of vaccinations my parents took all my brothers and I to visit my maternal grandmother. What poetry this small child found in a Quechua-speaking area called Sayllaphaya, a beautiful ranch more than 12 hours from the town of Granary, Cusco. That is where I was met with the friendship of two girls who only spoke Quechua, the Soto Humaní sisters; the same girls that, in the middle of games and pasturing their South American llamas and alpacas, showed us and taught us the incomparable culture of an Andean childhood. Chewing white daisies with coca leaves and llift'a (a condiment made up of ash and other ingredients), of course making the first offering to the apus (“gods”) and Pachamama. This taste that initiated the magic surrounding Quechua was enjoyed together with one my sisters as we took advantage of my father's time fishing, hunting, or harvesting potatoes in grandmother's fields. Suddenly these trips were interrupted when I went away to the capital with my older sister until I turned 15. Having then returned to my land at the start of 1969 to follow my secondary studies, I also got involved in the dance and song of Quechua and, from then on, submerged myself in Quechua like a fish in water.

Could give us a brief history of the Quechua language?
Quechua is patrimony of all South America. While its origin continues being an enigma, the theory that prevails today is that its first appearance was along the Peruvian coast. That is, the mountain range around Lima. Others attribute its origin to the Northern Sierra, where it was known as Kichua or Quichua. However, when arriving to the Incan capital of Cusco, where Puquina was spoken, the language was developed and enriched with Kichua and Aymara terms, giving thus origin to the Cuscan Quechua that was walled into the Incan capital and still today retains 99% of its purity. That is to say that each and every one of their words is conserved and pronounced without greater mixture like modern foreign words that, in any language of the world, are used like loans.

The Quechua spoken by the Incas is the same one now spoken around Cusco?
I am able to give a categorically affirmative answer. It is the same language that is now sustained in the native speech of Quechuas who conserve this incredible wealth. However, let's not forget the evolution that Quechua is said to have suffered until managing to become one of the richest, most creative, imaginative, metaphoric, and onomatopoetic languages of the world; there is no foreign word that cannot be interpreted by the Quechua language, although in its translation it is written like a loan. However, I should point out that there are regional Quechua dialects native to where they are spoken and they have been conserved by mutual agreement including that of the Incanato (“Incan emperor”). What should not be remain permitted is the
capricious diffusion that is mainly made in the mass media, on the Internet, running over the principles of a pure language that is as crystalline as the brilliant reflections in the lagoons when the naked sun sets to Pachamama.

How many variants of Quechua are there? And who speaks them?
Some linguists and students say there are 8 variants of Quechua, however I believe that quechua varies in each area where it is spoken, and those varieties grow according to the growth of Quechua geography as well as the course of time. That means that Quechua expands and will continue varying as the centuries pass.

What do you think of the world of blogs?
They are very interesting and, above all, an opportunity for someone with something to communicate. However, there should be a much finer filter and the ability to reject [what you don't want to see] like some YouTube videos which can do harm. Nor should excesses be allowed, which does not mean that we are puritans to say the least; it's not that I am not against expressions or publications that require certain words or images that, alone, are expressive. But they should not have bits of obscenity of such bad taste that they are vulgar. I repeat, blogs must be taken advantage of as an opportunity to improve individually and to help to the human race improve as beings with inherent rights to their dignity, like rational beings, and not to accelerate that distinction that differentiates us from the beasts.

How did you discover blogs and become motivated to have your own?
Through my husband, who had the luck to find out about their existence from his colleague and friend in the hospital where he works, for whom I hold my eternal gratitude, respect and admiration for his generosity which is seen in the project.

And it has been difficult or complicated to do it?
Like anything new in life, yes it has taken some work and many bouts of insomnia to be able to learn some of the techniques for my blog; and not just with respect to the technical part but also all the time that is taken up blogging and the motivation that is required to maintain it. Still, I am every day more convinced that, in my case, rather than being a complication, my blog is a catharsis. Because I express my feelings in the most humane language of the world with the freedom of the Andean eagle and flight of the condor.

Throughout the time you've had your blog, what have been the most memorable moments, whether positive or negative?
The best part of having the luck to write HablaQuechua is to be inter-connected, without censorship, with all of the world interested in this sublime language; to be the medium most effective in continuing its diffusion, a diffusion that is accompanied by the increase which I describe when statistics are published. There is a candid recognition that has been formed in some individual posts that, when I read them, move me like a young boy experiences his family's affection. Often those words have made my eyes become cloudy with the weeping of that pure emotion that I believe we all feel when we are praised, managing to ignite my heart and always leaving it ignited with the love that I keep for humanity and which is expressed in Quechua. Sometimes, I have received extremely constructive criticisms, others seemingly divergent, and still others of a tone that serve my intention of diffusion. Lest we not forget that even the rock can be shaped by water or, in this case, by Quechua. So tolerance and respect are what keeps certain comments from causing neither pain nor indignation, but rather concern for the person who writes them.

You have multiple occupations What can you tell us about them?
That I feel very content with my work and, being sincere, I enjoy myself very much. Because work is what really me makes happy. That is, all my jobs always revolve around the Quechua language, in demonstrating the great wisdom of the Quechua people and the magic that surrounds the person who thinks and lives in that culture. Quechua allows one to live in unity and peace with him or herself because it is an inexhaustible source of generosity, sincerity and – above all – love of the world that surrounds it.

What do you know about the usage of Quechua in other Andean countries?
In Bolivia, incredibly, there are more than two million Quechua speakers. In Argentina there are more than four million speakers that are mostly concentrated in Santiago del Estero, There are still others in Ecuador and Chile; it is estimated that there are more than 20 million Quechua speakers in all of South America.

Are there blogs dedicated to the subject in these countries?
Absolutely. It shows when we enter the Quechua web where there are many pages dedicated to Quechua with explanations in various languages of the world; for example, all over the world we have International Academies like the AMLQ in Italy; Germany; Argentina; Chile; Bolivia; Ecuador; among others.

There is interest in Quechua and its use by international organizations. Is it being taken advantage of?
Well, they say that the truth is generally painful, and so with sincerity I confess that there are international organizations, I'm talking about NGOs, which are helping to spread the language, but there are also others acting against the linguistic unity of the writing, diffusion and conservation, without considering that the Greater Academy of the Quechua Language (AMLQ) is the only body in charge of normalizing it. At the moment there is an anarchy in the diffusion of Quechua, as can be verified on the Internet. It is the reason why once and for all they should listen to the AMLQ, whose headquarters is in Cusco. This institution is observed by all the countries and Peruvian regions that speek Quechua. In regard to whether or not the international aid is being taken advantage of, I believe that yes there are institutions that are helping, but there are also others which seem to be making bad use of the aid.

And what efforts do we Peruvians do for the conservation of Quechua?
Though they don't cover all of what is implied by the ‘Quechua language’, I do believe that we are doing something. Well, that's a reference to the organizations. However, it is now the moment to call for a linguistic unity for all of us who work in the diffusion of Quechua and, principally, the institutions in charge of bilingual education in Peru.

Do you believe that Quechua speakers are somehow marginalized?
There is nothing worse in the life than feeling marginalized. I sincerely believe that it is possible to defeat marginalization, but with preparation, decision and, most importantly, with a clear vision of what is desired in life. There is no worse impossibility than the obstacle that the human being fixes to his mind before starting to work; marginalization is the pretext of mediocre people who use the excuse to pospone the fight for a better tomorrow.

We know that you are a university professor, specialized in Agrarian Law; what importance does Quechua have in this matter?
The origin of Peruvian agrarian law comes from the hand of the first Peruvian man, therefore from Quechua. To speak then of this matter is to be overcome by the great agrarian culture the Incan emperor developed with great skill and wisdom, working with knowledge and dominion of the ecology with his respective natural regions, in communion with the cosmivision where the water and Earth were conceived like the man and woman who gave origin to life. The manipulation of the natural renewable and nonrenewable resources was done with respect to the environment, the natural ecology, and resources. It resulted in a rational agriculture, a determining factor for the expansion and greatness of the our culture because the economic foundation of Peruvian civilization was and will be the Agrarian Law conceptualized not just in the cultivation of land and cattle, but also in the key that opens the doors of an immensely rich but also immensely poor Peru due to a lack of good decision-making and in the planning of education.

Tell us something about your participation in the Quechua version of Creative Commons, which should be online soon.
About three months ago, I was contacted by one of the members of Creative Commons in Peru thanks to my blog. They consulted to me on the possibility of doing the translations of the licenses that should be available in different languages; among which, of course, is Quechua due to the demand that this language commands at a world-wide level. And so now that we can communicate [online] in Quechua and find information (on any topic that exists), it was an invitation that I enthusiastically accepted. Having contributed to the translation of these licenses, I reiterate the pleasure of being part of this great project of “virtual” communication, especially in Quechua.

Would you like to give a special message to the readers of BlogsPerú?
I believe that everyone who writes to offer something of themselves feels the rejoice that I experience now when I see that my writings and words deserve the attention of the readers of BlogsPerú, which pushes me to give the best that I can. Because I am convinced that we can always enrich ourselves even more by getting to know other visions of humanity. Which is why I tell my readers that they are the inspiration for my writing. Thanks. Thank you very much. And please continue reading and growing like you have been; a strong hug that transfers distance and time.

Qelqaq masiyta yuyarispan kay rimayniiypi yukakushiani, hinaspa kasqan imayna sonqoy phatatatan qelqaqtiy, kikillamni qankunata umayman churaspan ima qelqatapas hinaspa rimariytapas warkuni chay BlogsPerü nisqa sumaq qhawarinapi; astawanmi kallpachakuni
hinaspapas qelqa ruwasqaykunata qankunata yuyarikuspan ruwani, ichataqmi kayninchista runapura sumaq maskharispapuni; chayraykun qankuna sumaq runamasiymi kankichis, loves hinachu, qelqakunata ñawinchallaychis loves tatispa, mark'ariykichis Ichaqa pasaq kayninchispi.

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