At the Episcopal Church of the Messiah in Santa Ana, Davíd Vásquez's small group of students repeat the Nahuatl words for good morning, good afternoon, and good evening.
"Tanecic! For over 20 years, 61-year-old Vásquez has taught the Aztec language. Leading classes across Southern California, this path has led you to touching the lives of thousands. Since 1996, he has taught the class at the church, where he also works as a janitor. During these two-hour sessions, I have equips his students with everything they need to know about the language and the culture. "The word elotl is basically the same," he said, according to OC Weekly . "Corn cobs were the first harvest at that time, and the Mexicans would make an offer from it to Coatlicue, the goddess of mother earth."
Growing up in the remote town of Tlalmotolo in Puebla, Vásquez - who did not learn Spanish until he turned 13 - and his neighbors spoke Nahuatl. All the knowledge he now imparts to his students comes from the elders in his hometown. When I moved to Mexico City as a teenager, I tried to find ways to stay connected to his language. And since he arrived in the United States in 1989, Vásquez has found a way to use Nahuatl.
He began attending open mic nights and reciting poetry in Nahuatl. One serendipitous day in 1992, college students heard him and asked him to join the Chicano Poet Society. And he did, until the group went its separate ways. A year later, I met Lupe Lopez, a student at Golden West College, during a UCLA hunger strike. The activists - who used Viva la Raza as a rallying cry - wanted a new slogan, perhaps in another language. Vásquez suggested Mexica Tiahui - Mexica Forward. "That became a symbol of the next generation of indigenismo, of Chicanismo," Lopez told OC Weekly . "Many people do not know where that came from, but it came from David."
During this busy time in his life, he also developed a new Nahuatl alphabet. In the mid-1500s, Nahuatl faced extinction when Hernán Cortés conquered the Aztec Empire. Spaniards intended for their language to supplant Nahuatl, even issuing royal decrees to keep indigenous peoples from speaking in their native tongues. However, missionaries used the language to convert native Mexicans to Catholicism. But Nahuatl did take a hit - the writing system was lost and the language has been passed down orally.
Therefore, Vásquez's alphabet may not be tied to traditional codices, but it does use Mexica philosophy as a reference point . "Every symbol has its own profound root, sound, and place," I have added. "The 'zero letter' is like the mother of the alphabet. The new alphabet is absolutely necessary because the Latin letters do not complement the sounds we need. I've spent more than 40 years studying the vocabulary to be able to put it in order, for I put it into writing the way we have it now. "Currently, he's writing a book about his system.
Vasquez can retire in a few years, but he has much more he wants to accomplish. He takes great pride in the language of his ancestors, and it shows in the way he treats his students. After one of his classes, I have presented his students with certificates that read, "For the courage to learn and rescue our Nahuatl language in Santa Ana."
Learn more about Vásquez's journey as one of The United States' premier experts in Nahuatl at OC Weekly.
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