Quechua is one of the most spoken languages in various South American countries with an indigenous background. Approximately 7,800,000 people speak it across Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. However, despite being considered an official language in 3 out of 6 Constitutions; the discrimination against the Andean citizens and centralization of the different governments have put the language in danger of extinction.
In Peru, there was a debate a few weeks ago when Prime Minister, Guido Bellido, began his speech in Quechua and Aymara. He was quickly interrupted by the Congress’ President, María del Carmen Alva, who asked him to continue his speech in Spanish. Many congressmen stood by Alva’s side claiming that their Constitution recognizes Spanish as their official language and every political event should be conducted in said language. Although Peru’s Constitution recognizes Spanish, Quechua, and Aymara as their official languages alongside any native language spoken by the majority in other Peruvian regions.
Learning Quechua is a great way to reconnect with our ancestors; this language has been spoken since the Inca empire era. It also tells us a lot about the dynamic of the rural communities and the warmth that Latinos represent. For example, most Quechua expressions are based on the relationships that you build within your community. When you don’t know a person and want to politely salute them, a way to greet them is by saying “Rimaykullayki” and you should respond with “Chaskikullayki”.
Contrary to the salute that everyone teaches us that should be reserved only for your close friends or family members. The correct way to ask a relative if they are okay is by saying “Allinllachu kachkanki”; which is similar to the expression “Hi, how are you?”. To what you respond “Allinllam Kachkani”, which means “I’m alright”.
Quechua is a beautiful language but it has also exposed the gap between the rural communities and the hyper-gentrified cities like Lima, in Peru. Public schools in the capital don’t teach Quechua, and the private centers focus on other languages such as English, Italian, and even German. Meanwhile, Quechua, Aymara and other native languages are only reserved for rural schools to facilitate their learning. However, all the universities and professional institutes only teach classes in Spanish, making it difficult for immigrants to access higher education.
In the US, there have been more initiatives to learn Quechua. NYU, the University of Pennsylvania, The Ohio State University, and UCLA are some of the universities that have programs to learn the Incan language. Due to the opportunities for studying abroad, volunteering, and tourism. However, it is our main task as South Americans to teach the youth our native language to connect with our roots and give the indigenous communities more opportunities.