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A Network of Indigenous Language Digital Activists in Mexico

Participants of the 1st Gathering of Indigenous Language Digital Activists. Photo by Biblioteca Juan de Córdova.

Participants of the 1st Gathering of Indigenous Language Digital Activists. Photo by Biblioteca Juan de Córdova.

With 68 indigenous languages and more than 300 variants spoken across the country, Mexico holds the distinction as one of the most linguistically diverse countries in Latin America. Concerns remain because many of these languages are considered endangered and continue to face ongoing challenges, such as the pressure from the dominant language of Spanish and societal discrimination. Unless measures are taken, many of these languages could face an uncertain future.

However, there is good news that the Internet has emerged as a space where many in Mexico can communicate online using indigenous languages, as well as to create new digital content instead of being just consumers of content. More importantly many are becoming more active advocates by encouraging and supporting others to be part of this movement. Their digital activism is part of an overall strategy along with academic research, documentation, and the introduction of language learning in schools, which can help build a foundation for a new generation revitalizing indigenous languages.

Gathering

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In this context, 25 participants across Mexico gathered to connect with others in an event for indigenous language digital activists. The main idea of the three-day event was to provide a space for digital activists to meet face-to-face with others that share their commitment to preserving and revitalizing indigenous languages through the use of participatory digital media.

From October 3-5, 2014, the diverse group met in the city of Oaxaca where they organized peer-led hands-on workshops, led discussions, and spent time networking where they shared their successes, challenges, and strategies to promote the use of native languages to contribute towards a more linguistically diverse Internet. When more people can communicate and connect in more languages, the Internet becomes a more inclusive space providing more opportunities for the sharing of knowledge.

Workshop host was the San Pablo Cultural Center and the gathering was co-organized by Rising Voices, the Juan de Córdova Research Library, and SURCO AC. Local partners, such as Wikimedia Mexico, Mozilla Mexico, OjoVoz, and Rancho Electrónico also came onboard to share their knowledge and support digital activists with specific skills and strategies in the use of digital media.

Participants

Following a nationwide open call for participation, the organizing team selected 28 participants hailing from 10 Mexican states and speaking 20 languages and variants between them. Three participants were unable to attend. The selected group was comprised of a diverse mix of digital activists, each already working in his or her own individual revitalization projects. Some were heavily involved in free software localization projects, others were producing audio podcasts in indigenous languages, and other were using blogs to create news and stories. What they all had in common was the desire to share their knowledge with others. The complete list of participants can be found here.

Plenary Sessions, Workshops, and Public Events

The gathering was designed to facilitate conversations among the participants through 90-minute plenary sessions led by facilitators and participants. Following a short presentation, the floor was opened so that participants could share their local perspectives based on personal experience. These sessions were directly related to linguistic, technical, organizational, and socio-cultural challenges faced by the digital activists.

For example, most of the participants are involved in these language revitalization initiatives without any expectation of compensation, but being able to build alliances with public, private, and community-based groups can help strengthen their work and increase the chances for impact. Another plenary session focused on the linguistic challenges for writing in indigenous languages. These range from a lack of an available keyboard to strategies for creating neologisms, which especially comes in handy for localization projects. Other sessions included sustainability and the topic of sharing community-owned content on the web.

In addition to the plenary discussions, six blocks of three simultaneous peer-led workshops offered an opportunity to learn a new skill during a BarCamp-style format. The workshops were designed to produce content using digital tools. Among the workshops included topics such as creating an audio podcast using Audacity, telling a photo/audio story using the mobile app OjoVoz, how to start a free software localization project, creating a WordPress blog, subtitling videos using Amara, and how to edit a Wikipedia article, among others.

Because of high demand, many workshops were repeated throughout the three days so participants could attend more than one, while many new workshops were proposed based on interest. Many groups took advantage of the time to produce content during the workshop. For example, during the Audacity podcasting workshop, participants learned how to record, edit, and upload an audio podcast such this one of greetings in the Mixteco and Mazahua languages:

Other outputs included a blog created to share news in the Tsotsil language, memes in the Triqui language, subtitling videos in the Mixe language using Amara, and tweets using the #activismolenguasMX hashtag (Language Activism MX). Others became inspired from the workshops, strengthening their commitment to starting localization projects of the Firefox browser or operating system. There was also a desire by participants to move the Wikipedia in Maya Yucateco project out of the incubator by making it an official version of the online encyclopedia.

Public panel - "Internet in My Language"  Photo by Eddie Avila

Public panel – “Internet in My Language” Photo by Eddie Avila

Two panels — “Internet in My Language” and “Sharing Content Online – Legal and Community Implications” — were also free and open to the public. Following the presentations and question-and-answer session, participants and guests networked on the patio of the Cultural Center San Pablo over a taste of mezcal, a typical beverage from the region.

Building a Network

Participants have returned home with the knowledge of many more digital tools at their disposal to work towards their goal of revitalizing their language, but more importantly with many new friends and contacts interested in mutually supporting each other's work. The task remains how to best sustain this community as it moves to a virtual space.

However, this new network will explore ways to replicate this gathering on a more local level and to inspire other communities throughout the region about what is possible using relatively easy-to-use digital tools. The network will also serve to share digital content, success stories, and opportunities that can help advance the work of these digital activists so that the network can begin to grow.

A blog is being developed to better highlight the work of these digital activists, not only in Mexico, but across Latin America. By featuring their work and introducing them to others, we can better understand how to better support their work. We'll also be introducing the participants and their activities through video interviews taken during the gathering, which will be published on Global Voices.

It has been inspiring to see so many digital activists committed to their cause because they believe that it is their responsibility to ensure that the next generation can not only find, but also create their own digital content in all of Mexico's indigenous languages.

Our work building bridges across cultures, languages and perspectives is more urgent than ever before.

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