Series of Animated Stories Revitalize Indigenous Languages in Mexico

As originally posted on Global VoicesWritten by Giovanna Salazar / Translated by Philip Smart
Republished with author permission

Photo: La última danza (The Last Dance) Animated Mayan folk tale. Screenshot taken from Vimeo. [1]

Photo: La última danza (The Last Dance) Animated Mayan folk tale. Screenshot taken from Vimeo.

“You can’t love what you don’t know” is the premise of ‘68 tongues, 68 hearts [2] [2], an animated project aimed at preserving and sharing the indigenous languages of Mexico.

The project aims to promote pride, respect, and encourage the use of the indigenous languages of Mexico, through a series of animated stories narrated in these languages and subtitled in Spanish.

An example of the project is the video below. The story is based on the traditional storytelling of the Yaqui people [3]El Chapulín Brujo [The Sorcerer Cricket] tells how the Yaqui people survived the attack of a ferocious monster, thanks to a divine tree and the Sorcerer Cricket who managed to defeat the beast.

The animation is narrated in Yaqui [4], a language of the Mexican state of Sonora.

The name of the project alludes to the 68 indigenous languages of Mexico which, according to the National Indigenous Languages Institute (NILA) [5], are currently spoken in the country. According to the project’s Vimeo channel [6]:

Las lenguas indígenas engloban una visión única de la vida y del mundo. Al desaparecer, se pierde la cosmovisión y cosmogonía única de cada pueblo, perdiéndose una parte importante de la humanidad.

The indigenous languages encompass a unique vision of life and of the world. Their disappearance would imply a loss of the unique world view and existence of each community; an important part of humanity.

In this sense, the project recognises the indigenous languages as visions of the world and seeks to avoid their extinction.

This is illustrated by the following animation, based on the poem Cuando muere una lengua [7] [When a tongue dies] by Mexican historian and anthropologist Miguel León Portilla,[8] a prime authority on Nahuatl [9] thought and literature.

The story is narrated in Nahuatl, more specifically in the Huasteca variation of the language. [10]

Cuando muere una lengua […]

Entonces se cierra a todos los pueblos del mundo, una puerta, una ventana.

Un asomarse de modo distinto a las cosas divinas y humanas, a cuanto es ser y vida en tierra.

When a tongue dies […]

A door or a window is then closed on all people of the world

A glimpse at all things divine and human from a different angle; life on Earth and our existence.

This first series has successfully brought to life certain stories of popular tradition and selected works of indigenous poets and artists, as well as historians and philosophers, experts in thinking and indigenous languages. The page [11] of the project reads as follows:

En esta [primera] serie se retratan siete de estas 68 visiones del mundo: huasteco, maya, mixteco, náhuatl, totonaco, yaqui y zapoteco, a través de la visión de siete escritores y siete ilustradores gráficos.

In this [first] series, seven of these 68 world views are portrayed: Huastec, Mayan, Mixtec, Nahuatl, Totonacan, Yaqui and Zapotec, through the vision of seven writers and seven graphic illustrators.

The following video is based on the story “La última danza [12] [The last dance] by Mayan writer Isaac Esau Carrillo Can. [13] The story focuses on the story of a woman who recalls a conversation with her father, who has bid farewell to this earthly world to be reunited with her mother. Her father bids her farewell, assuring her that ‘the great seed of the dances’ has been sown in her and she will have to go forth and spread these in the world.

The language of narration is Yucatán Maya [14].

In an interview with Global Voices, creator and director of the project Gabriela Badillo [15] stated that they are currently working very closely with NILA, and also with speakers of the indigenous languages in order to cover, one by one, each of the 68 indigenous languages of the country, above all those at greatest risk of extinction [16].

Badillo reiterated that the project is the product of collaboration between contemporary authors, translators and interpreters of indigenous languages, illustrators, animators, audio and musical designers, as well as a research and adaptation team. He stressed the importance of participation of the indigenous people and communities that have shared their stories of popular tradition.

When asked about the reception of the project, Gabriela shared with us the following:

En general, las comunidades con las que nos hemos acercado lo han recibido con emoción, por ver en un video parte de su historia, tradición, cultura. No mostrada como una “cultura estática” y antigua de museo sino [como] algo vivo que va cambiando y creciendo con el tiempo y con las nuevas generaciones; sin caer en los “clichés” de lo indígena sino incluyendo a los jóvenes de las comunidades, así como a artistas mexicanos que aportan un grano de arena. Sobre todo, en aulas de enseñanza nos han comentado que las y los niños se muestran muy emocionados.

In general, the communities that we have approached have received [the project] with emotion, eager to see part of their history, tradition and culture in a video. They are not shown as a ‘static culture’ or a museum exhibit, but rather [shown as] something living that is evolving and growing with the times and the new generations; avoiding the usual ‘clichés’ of indigenous people and including the youth of the communities, as well as contributing Mexican artists. Above all, in classrooms we have been told that children have been particularly touched [by the project].

The 68 Tongues Vimeo Channel [6] contains all information about the project, as well as the credits corresponding to each video and their descriptions in English. Some animations can also be watched with English subtitles on the YouTube [17] channel.

More information and updates about the project are available on the Facebook [2] page and on the page of the Hola Combo [11] creative team.


CHICANAH: a proposal

Chicanah: A Proposal

Chicanah: A Proposal

Chicano, Chicana, [email protected], or Chican o/a, oh wait, is it Chicana/o?

Yea, that. Those annoying abnormal punctuating efforts we have to search our keyboard for in order to properly convey the complimentary dual essence of our identity.

Chicano is a Spanish variation of the Nahuatl word Mexicah.  Mexicah meaning, “the Mexican people” (plural)  and where Mexica(tl) would be singular. Mexicah Tiahui, Indigenous moving forward right?  Unlike Spanish and English, Nahuatl does not have gender specific language or word formations. Yet, I still see many using Chicano (male gender specific) when referring to our collective nation, totally ignoring wombyn,  the life givers of our community.

If in general, a Chicano is “a Mexican-American with a non-Anglo image of himself,” then I believe that is to infer an Indigenous identity. I believe by continuing to use iterations such as [email protected] or Chicana/o, we are displaying a reluctance to completely step into Indigenous values.

Perhaps the reluctance has something to do with the nostalgia of the Chicano Movement of past decades. I know I love those old skool “Chicano Power” stickers and patches my dad would floss back in the 70’s. Whatever the reason, I think it’s important to reflect on this occurrence.

Words create our reality. So,  by being stuck on those European gender specific acrobatic spellings, are we finding it hard to verbally commit to the Indigenous values of our community? Are we sowing imbalance by creating a border between our complimentary relatives?

This is why I propose using the word Chicanah.

Chicanah (chee-kaah-nah) is man and wombyn united . When you say Chicanah you are speaking unity. You are sowing oneness; you are sowing a stronger nation by saying/writing a simple but profound word. No more divisive slashes, dashes, and swirly weird shit.  Spelled in this way, Chicanah is grammatically correct and inclusive.

If as Chicanah, we already embrace Nahuatl as component of rebuilding our indigenous self, and our goal is to decolonize, why continue employing this divisive spirit in our words?

The Word Manifests our Reality. Right?

Be Impeccable with Your Word.


Tlahtolli: An interview with Juan B. Mancias of the Carrizo Comecrudo Nation of Texas

Photo of Juan B. Mancias. Photo from the Facebook album by Elizabeth Brossa: "The Gulf Remembers: The 5 year anniversary of the BP oil disaster"
Photo of Juan B. Mancias. Photo from the Facebook album by Elizabeth Brossa: “The Gulf Remembers: The 5 year anniversary of the BP oil disaster”

The following is an exclusive Xica Nation interview with Juan B. Mancias, Tribal Chair of the Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation of Texas.

What is the connection between the range of issues presently affecting our community such as: fracking in Texas, family detention, racist mascots (as examples of issues affecting the territory and happening now)…and the loss of our spiritual knowledge and ceremonies with the land?

I would have to say that the roots of fracking, family detention, racist mascots, and other issues like water protection lies in the dismantling of “the Doctrine of Discovery”. It has to do with our own dismantling of our colonized versions of who we are. Spanish like English are both foreign languages to this land, and Spanish is not foreign cause it comes from Mexico it is one of the European languages that have added to our colonizing. The true languages of this land is the language of the people whose ancestors were here for eons and ten thousands of years before English and Spanish were introduced. Even this prose is lacking what emotions lie in the very depths of my soul and heart for the connection to this land. I have no need to cross no ocean and see other lands although I have been to France and Korea, too know where allegiance lies where my belly button is buried. I am the land of my ancestors and my ancestors are my land therefore they are me. Subsequently, in the Comecrudan language there is a term called “pana yowen” simply stating that it is “it is alive”. Panayowen is the movement of all things according to the fractal engineering of all life in a helix. It explains the movement of the Kaka Kamla or mother earth in the universe and how all life is connected.

Carrizo logo downsized effectively

It is in these feelings where lie the reasons to stand-up for justice issues. Issues like the our sacred river the Amahatau Mete’l (Rio Grande) being turned into the divider of the great Esto’k Gna Nation, a nation that had been lived, traded and maintained an area for thousands of years before the push of other nations upon us because of the greediness brought from Spain and the Catholic Church. It is in this greediness that like the greater injustice of today. It is in their wanton greediness that people of brown skin are seen as interlopers upon their Colonial degradation.

This colonial mentality that is based on individualism and genericism and the white washing of all that is sacred to the people of the land. In doing so they can deprive the people of land from the very connection to the earth. The distortion of that believe thus derives the degradation of the lifeways that hold the teachings of land and take away the language you are left with only less that 1/16th if not less than, thus introducing an exploited and romanticized near cultist in trying to hang on to a beliefs. Understanding that the whole life teachings based on the place you are born too and the placement where you are at in the universe through the understanding of the stars and other heavenly objects give us the understanding to the water and our need for it survive.

1524729_10201154737445989_1428437573_nOur connection to the fire gives understanding to change in most dire straits. These two elements show that power and control are with the greater mystery of life. Air and Earth give us understanding why we are in the Panoyowen. We have only a power to survive in the Creation and if we alter it has away of altering us.

So in understanding our own existence is to be connected that to which defines us.

Our identity is based on the teaching of our ancestral lifeways. It is overcoming the colonial “Stockholm Syndrome” that has made buy into what the oppressors has called us to control us: heathens, savages, Hispanics, Mexican-Americans, Native Americans, indigenous, all these terms are subject to racist placement; for when they first arrived we called our selves human beings. In our languages their is no term for Carrizo, Comecrudo, Malnombre, Come Perros, Mano de Perro, Borados, Pintos, Casa Chiquitas, Orejones, Mal Criados, names given to us by those who did not know us as human beings as we kept telling them. Our younger generations have brought into that defamation of character just because they have scared heaven into our lives. Mascots issues are derivative of this colonization of oppressive character degradation.

WE ARE ESTO'K KUA'K IYOPE'MWe have a language and it is not Coahuiltecan, Uto-Aztecan, or Athabascan. As matter fact if you look up the last chapter of the Bulletin 127 by John Swanton the last chapter (I believe it is page 145) it tells you that the Carrizo language Comecrudan is older than the Uto-Aztecan and Athabaskan languages in Texas. Words like spirituality were an action word followed by noun. “Kuampa’k yen” means dance. Mete’l is defined as the soul, but used as spirit. NO words like prayer, church, ceremony, or spirituality existed in our language, they were real actions that occurred on a daily basis; they were a way of life.

Today, the biggest part of my life is wishing not to become like the “colonial oppressor”. It is still part of daily life to live as my ancestors lived. My spirituality if you wish to use that word is based on the tears, sweat, anguish, pain, and blood my ancestors gave for me to be Esto’k Gna. How many of us are willing to go out a PAMAHE (looking into one self, our version of the vision quest) and fast without having to partake of any medicine to see what my job is for the people.

Statement about Serra and Maria de Agreda REVISEDFasting for stopping the fracking or stopping the pipeline can be done, who is willing to take such an action? Naw, but everybody is ready to run off to a powwow or meeting, just to get their on individual needs met as generic inter-tribal indigenous people. Long walks to from Quemado to Austin’s Rail Road Texas Commission would be a good quest to bring light for the people of the land and sacredness of it all. But know we have to listen to some poorly defined, poorly educated, not raised in their culture, just became Indian 15 years ago, and book Indians tell us that there are only 4 sacred springs, (ojos de agua). They surmise that one Pictograph Panel in Seminole Canyon can explain all of the Sacred Kiapai’ni Kop (Walk Peyote). It is outrageous to see the younger generations calling these fools, elders. An elder knew their language and grewup with the teaching and with thorough understanding of finding what he or she did not know. This is why we get the less that shallow commitments to fight for justice. Everyone is caught up in their own little worlds instead of seeking the people that have more knowledge and commitment to the land they are connected from birth.

We also know the Texas territory is a medicinal holy land from nations all across the Americas/Turtle Island/Cemanahuac/(insert the word of your choice.) Do you think this fact has been hidden from us as Texas peoples on purpose…and why is it important that we document and share our stories digitally?

My Children RememberBut of course, it is hidden it deals with a people that are autochthonous to this land and have been deprived of their identity because of the wealth in oil, coal, and other minerals that they rape the earth from. It is now different than what the Spanairds did. Today , they still follow the ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ to fulfill their greed at the price of other human being’s mental state, emotional state and their identities. But we too must realize not to be as disrespectful as those that have oppressed us. Some one said before me, “There is hell to pay when the oppressed become the oppressors”. For me it is a daily struggle not become like the ‘pinche, cabron, desgraciado gringo.’ In that thought as prayer lies serenity for me, especially when I do what my dream has asked me to do “Know my people”, “Regain our lands, and “Not let my people die by another.

Mission attrocitiesThe Battle of the “Republic of the Rio Grande” is not in the history books and it’s epic story of settling the southern border. A man Antonio Zapata died at there at the battle of Mier. He was “mulatto” of Carrizo descent, his head was cut off and place on Lance too see what happens to Natives that crossed the Mexican Government. Another reason they do not want to recognize the Natives of this land the Esto’k Gna. In Val Verde County in Juno, Texas there is mass grave side where at least 300 Carrizos lie buried after being massacred by priest and soldiers. It is documented. I have attached the Interview with my Great Great Grand father. You can also look up the Battle of Mier.

[Click on the document names to view PDF: Historical testimony by Manuel Cavazos / Carrizo Historical Timeline.]

Recently on Facebook you shared some moving pictures about a recent trip to ceremony in Puerto Rico to connect with the Taino nation (is that correct?). Could you tell us a little bit about your trip and any other words you’d like to share with us relatives in/from Texas about this experience?

sona la musica ladina.Puerto Rico or Boriken to those relatives there on the Island. It was captivating experience. To see the continuance of culture that was on the edges of decimation remain strong within its pockets of language and lifeways. To stand on the hills where their ancestors fought off disease, attacks, and the catholic church is amazing. To be able to bring our language and songs to their land was beyond an experience that can be put into words. To see the reaction of their spirits welcoming the presence of my spirit was again beyond words. When the honey bees came after the singing of our Bear Songs was amazing to witness. I will try to share the video of me singing the songs and the orbs that appeared in the video was astonishing. It is those spirits of land that hear our hearts when we speaking our languages the languages that define us.

They had a ball game played by the men that was a way of measuring your competition. The women and their preparatory cleansing for the start of their dance was also amazing to witness. The abuelas were the ones that choose their Cacique. As in many cultures like ours the women have better understanding of the well-being of the tribe or village.  Same holds true in their selecting of Caciques.

The experience was awesome and hopefully I will visit my family again.

Recently an image from Nuevo Leon, Mexico depicting the indigenous names of families from the area surfaced and there were several points where Carrizo was listed. What are the connections?

Tribes of the state of Nuevo Leon, Mexico
Tribes of the state of Nuevo Leon, Mexico

There is only one real connection and that is the language. You have to understand that there was great migration of displaced people that happen especially where large European settlements were made. Like around the Houston Galveston bay area the Karankawa were know to have gone to Mission, Texas and settled with the Comecrudos in 1859, now that is documented. The Spanish were known for kidnapping our 5 and 6 year olds and taking them to Mexico City and brainwash with Spanish and taught Nahua as well and later bring them back as interpreters. Along, with came the people that had already been colonized, native people as well. These people were used as examples for the rest of us here to settle down to the Europeans ways.  All of this is documented. Indians of the Rio Grande Delta is good book to give you better knowledge of all the people that were in Nuevo Leon, Tamulipas, Coahuila states. But the language was recorded 1886 in Camargo, by my relatives. There are certain words that are considered target identifiers that remain in the Spanish that is spoken in South Texas. My family the Mancias’ have always been in Texas, preserving, maintaining, and living this way of life, since before it became Texas.

You are also an activist and also work with youth and students. Why is working with youth important? What are some examples of the types of gatherings you conduct?

Deer Dancing I mostly work with youth who struggling with their own identities. Young people do not know that their identity is in crisis until they have to start formulating relationships in high school. The peer pressure is tremendous, among an already confused environment. Our young people need to be okay with an identity that is fulfilling their want as well as their needs. Lifeways is more than just the sweat lodge, tipi meetings, powwows, and the next danza. It is about interacting in the lifeways as just plain human beings and giving meaning to be a human being. We are a whole being, emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual, and now we are social beings as well. How do we bring that back for young people beside our own distorted views of spirituality.

2014-05-01 19.32.07Language and lifeways are big part of maintaining and preserving even if you just touch 3 youngsters in a life time and they touch three our life ways will remain. Youth are not just our future they are right here right now. We have got to give them our language, let them experience life from the creation side not just from watching on you tube. It is about bring up scholars who understand the true meaning of elders and not one who wants to get drunk or high with them. Consistency is important. that is why drum making, rattle making, puberty rites, rites of passage, arrow making, language forums, preparing deer dancers, bear dances, badgers, etc. is how we develop our youth.

What are the top 5 issues affecting your/our community presently?

1.  The total disregard and disrespect to our presence in Texas. You speak to these fools that are there romanticizing the medicine ways and you would think there has never been any other Natives between the Rio Grand and San Antonio.

2.  The misinterpretations of sacred sites and their abuse to gain some attention. Sacred Sites like the Twin Buttes, Double Mountains, Enchanted Rock, Paint Rock, Seminole Canyon, Palo Duro Canyon, Wai Nawi’s (Stand Alone Mountain) are being misrepresented that have nothing to do with these sites even our sacred Ko’p Somi Sek, is threatened by charlatans and unaware fools who only seek their own indigenous gratification rather than the people, sounds alike they brainwashed in the dogmas and doctrines of the colonizer, A NEED TO DECOLONIZE.  That is why I ask my self let it be for those who have before us and those that will come after us.

Witte museum 08-02-08 0013.  The State of Texas failure to recognize property right and mineral rights, unfortunately our relatives the Kickapoo, Alabama-Coushatta, and Tigua are not autochthonous to this land. Although, I have worked with the Kickapoo and Alabama-Coushatta in protecting our sacred sites and repatriation of remains. It has been difficult to get the remains that he Witte Museum has in their possession. [We] could use help with that. We need help get our lands back in Texas whether they are in South Texas or North Texas or both would be awesome. So we need volunteers to help us get these remains back and help get court proceedings involved as well

4.  Having to get permission to have access to our sacred sites. Some of the sites are on private land and it is impossible. So we need get access to public land as well. We need help in our administration in doing so. Volunteers would be great to help usl

5.  Money. We need financial assistance. We cannot go forth with out at least $50,000 to a pay an attorney to help with our recognition process. We need help to pay land taxes to hang on to the land where we have so many lifeway events (I refuse to use the word ‘ceremony’ because it is colonizer word.) We need to hire an administrative staff that will help with ongoing research process of recognition. Yes, Please if you can help in any way even just volunteer to write a grant that guarantee us some help you will always be honored and respected by the Esto’k Gna.

Could you tell us a little bit about your two books, So Your Grandma Is NDN And You Don’t Like Controversy and Sounds of Oppression?

So Your Grandma is NDN, and you don't like controversy By Juan Benito Mancias
So Your Grandma is NDN, and you don’t like controversy
By Juan Benito Mancias

My books are my first in the Grand ma book is series of writings about growing up Esto’k Gna in Texas and the rest of Native America. I have a Spanish name. Yet, I am named after both my grandfathers who maintained and preserved Esto’k Gna lifeways. It has been these names that have led me in the journey with my relatives to discover just what our Identities meant to Us as Esto’k Gna. Our influence were the spanish that is why we have these names not because I am Mexican. Mexican is a nationality and not a culture. Yet my real name is Yen Nawi’s Nepol’k, meaning “I stand alone.”

In my journey I have found my family to be part of Texas and American History from it’s inception. In 1857 in Goliad there was a Juan Mancias. In 1813, my great great great grandma was born in Tesuque Pueblo. Tesuque Pueblo’s language same as Carrizos, different dialect, go figure. It has been years of trying to bring me to where I am and outspoken and hopefully well being protector of the true Texas people lifeways. I speak from what I know and the teachings that are common to many of us tribal people. Like “dime con quein andas, y te dire quien eres.” “Tell me who you walk with and I will tell you who you are.” I believe this is one of the best decolonizers there is.

Sounds of oppression By Juan Benito Mancias
Sounds of oppression
By Juan Benito Mancias

The other book is what many would consider poems or prose, I think some of them were just me sending my voice (another way of saying ‘prayer’, we had no such word in our language). They are plethora of writings that carry from childhood on this journey to speak out and remain silent no more to the colonizers. Back in 1989, I put together a paper call the 12 steps to deprogramming or brainwashing. It has always made sense to me not exploit, romanticize, or trivialize the lifeways of the people who give me an identity.

How can people support your work?

Friend me on Facebook, buy the books so I can write some more.  Go to
the url

Your support in getting me do workshops or just speaking engagements would help. We have our deer dance and bear dance that are sacred, we will bring to your area, just make sure there are no drugs or alcohol around.

We have no income whatsoever coming in. I operate from what little I make. Our people need help to get our lands back and everyone will gain from this.

Check our website or the Carrizo Comecrudo Facebook page to donate.

Help us to publish our research findings that are costly as well.


TLAHTOLLI is a series on Xica Nation featuring exclusive interviews with community leaders, spiritual elders, thinkers and artists that participate actively in community work and empowerment.

“Cuando muere una lengua” / new free app to learn Mixteco

The following are two awesome links that deal with the retention of indigenous language and its inextricable link to cultural identity.  The first link is to a video in Nahuatl (subtitled in Spanish) based on the poem “When a tongue dies” by Miguel León Portilla.  (English translation follows.)  The second link is to a free app (for a mobile device) called “Vamos a aprender Mixteco” where you can learn Mixteco, an indigenous Mexican language spoken around Oaxaca, Puebla and Guerrero.  Feel free to share with kids, friends and family.  Enjoy!

“Cuando muere una lengua”

English Translation:

“When a tongue dies
Divine things,
The stars, the Sun, and the Moon
Human things,
Thinking and feeling
Are no longer reflected
In that mirror.
When a tongue dies
Everything in the World
Seas and rivers,
Animals and plants,
Are not thought of nor spoken of
With glimmers and sounds
That no longer
A window,
A door closes
For all peoples of the World.
A glance
In a different way
At divine and human things,
At everything that exists and is life on the ground.
When a tongue dies,
Its words of love,
Intonation of sorrow and fondness,
Perhaps old chants,
Tales, discourses, prayers,
Nobody, as they were
Will be able to repeat.
When a tongue dies,
Many more have already died
And many can die.
Mirrors forever broken
Voice shadows
Forever silenced:
Humankind is impoverished.”

English version:




LINK #2: Vamos a aprender Mixteco” free app




Linguistic Material from the Tribes of Southern Texas and Northeastern Mexico

By:  John R. Swanton

Smithsonian Institution

Bureau of American Ethnology



NOTE:  As is custom, please take this reading (and all readings written from an outsider perspective) with a grain of salt.  This post is meant to serve as a platform for further investigation.  For more information you may contact some of the Texas tribes:

Carrizo Comecrudo Nation

Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation

Indigenous Cultures Institute


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