Spanish, a Language of Oppression

Lima, Peru


In modern times in South America the media, TV and radio, is the ultimate tool of choice for spreading the Spanish language throughout the continent. Media that is in English or other languages is mercilessly and ridiculously dubbed in Spanish before it is broadcasted on the multiple TV channels. The only language that the public is allowed to hear is Spanish. In times past geographical isolation helped to preserve the thousands of Native American languages and dialects that made this continent so colourful and multicultural. A truly exciting place to be in. Many ethnic groups have been determined to preserve the tongue of their forefathers and foremothers. But this is getting harder and harder. Nowadays the only language one hears is Spanish. Very few media to my knowledge is broadcasting in native languages. Spanish is suffocating this continent. Not even in countries that are officially with majority Native American populations, like Peru and Bolivia, is there any media that breaks this sad tradition. In Bolivia there is only one TV channel that broadcasts in Aymara to teach that language to people that have forgotten or never learned their native language. It is most likely state sponsored. In Peru on the other hand nothing is broadcasted except Spanish. Or, as the Peruvian saying goes, ‘Incas si, indios no’. I am amazed that Native American languages are still as vibrant as they are in South America despite this pressure.

In both of the aforementioned countries there is an increase in Native American pride and demands for justice. This is especially so in Bolivia after the takeover in elections of the first Native American president, Evo Morales, and his MAS political party. But undoing the centuries of political, economic and cultural abuse, is hard to accomplish. Native American people have been denied access to education and social advancement. They have been deemed to poverty because of their origin. Descendants of Spanish and other European descended people make up the middle and upper class in South America. The middle class is not a populous group and the upper class even fewer. Yet, they control the economy. Their forefathers, the Spanish conquistadores, took over the continent gangman style amid tremendous ravages of epidemic diseases that brought death to 80-90% of the native population. With gangman style tactics they allied themselves if necessary with one nation against the other. Often the conquistadores did not even bother to use tiresome political means, brute force was often enough. All the while, the invisible viruses did the work for them on the ground.

To end the role of the Spanish language as a tool of oppression, there must be a fundamental change in South America. The Spanish language is an expression of centuries old effort to eradicate the Indian to install a placid subject that questions not the modern ideas of nationalism and nation building in the continent. To break this oppressive tradition Native American language TV and radio stations must be supported enough to break the dominant grip of the Spanish language. The Spanish language must not be used in this way any longer. Same goes for Portuguese in Brazil. Both these languages are intricately linked to a horrendous and bloody history of genocide, cultural eradication, murder, rape and oppression that continues to this day, alas now in more subtle way.

It is however a happy tidings indeed to experience first hand a rising pride in being a Native American in South America. The oppression is loosening slowly but surely. Numerous movements have risen that demand rights and justice. They are getting better organized and coordinated. Although they are locally based, they need help in recognizing their struggle and to put pressure on governments to engage in dialogue with Native Americans. It was exciting to witness the changes to Bolivian society, where only very recently Native Americans were actually slaves to rangers and wealthy land owners of European descent. Infrastructure and educational projects, redistribution of wealth, social projects with increasing political awareness, all headed in the right direction of a fairer society. In the end such society becomes wealthier and more prosperous, better able to adjust in their advantage changes in the world economy. Let’s hope, dream and fight for a better future for all those who inhabit South America.

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