Mexican literature beyond the spanish language

Montemayor, Carlos
Revista Literatures Núm. 1 i 2 1998

The concept of Mexican literature includes -- besides what is written in Spanish and Latin -- that production written in indigenous languages before the conquest, during the colonial period, and what is now reappearing in different parts of the country, despite the fact that these languages are unknown or unacknowledged.
The simultaneous, although at first uncoordinated, appearance of these writers in different parts of the country is the result of the evolution of the indigenous organisations themselves and of the educational initiatives which have been occurring therein in response to different, and at times contradictory, linguistic policies. Different essays indicate the modalities adopted by these processes among the Maya of the Yucatán, the Tzotzils and Tzeltals of Chiapas, the Zapotecs of the Isthmus and the different writers of the tonal languages.
Working with different groups has made it possible for me to appreciate and value some elements of these processes, for example, the strong collective sense of some literary genres such as stories, theatre or song. But to demonstrate the power of this art, the first requirement is literacy in the indigenous languages and the definition of practical alphabets. The indigenous writer is confronted, then, not only with artistic creation itself but with a cultural commitment that obliges him or her to reconsider practically everything that has anything to do with his or her language. Then, it is necessary to take on other aspects like literary training.
In my trips of 1981 and 1982, I set up the literacy workshop in the Mayan language and I glimpsed then, working with bilingual Mixa and Chinantec promoters, that this type of activity had to be applicable to other indigenous languages of Mexico. I oriented the literary workshops in indigenous languages first towards syntactic delimitation in the face of the Spanish language, while, in a second phase, I devoted myself to delimiting other characteristics of the indigenous languages: tones. glottalised sounds, accents and, in the case of syllables, different values of quantity. In phase three, we went on to the writing and correcting of texts.
Thirteen years of work with different indigenous writers have led me to think that, in order to understand the languages of Mexico, it is necessary to seek the natural order of form and cadence of the languages themselves and to leave aside the assumptions that have conditioned poetry or literature in modern western languages. We are dealing with a high aesthetic order, a more complex one, which has a wider range of sonant values, with millenarian models which are still alive in ceremonial discourse, in incantations, in priestly orations, songs and certain stories. It is from these models of composition that present-day indigenous Mexican writers are constructing a new phase in Mexican literature.