It might seem strange to people in Cusco that Elva Ambia teaches Quechua in New York. Cuzqueños hear Quechua spoken throughout their city though fewer people speak this beautiful language of the Andes each year. Elva is concerned that the language will disappear as it is now listed on the endangered languages list. Elva is quoted in the Wall Street Journal “If I am alive, then I am going to make it (Quechua) alive.”
If Quechua has difficulty in Andes how much more does it struggle to be spoken among Andeans in the United States. New Jersey is the traditional center to which Peruvian immigrants came because of traditional textile production (a place where the talents and skills of the artisans of Peru were valued). Nevertheless, New York has also been an area to which immigrants have been drawn. New York is the gateway to the United States, but it is also where people from can find communities from countries all over the world.
Quechua is a language rich in history and heritage. It also has different dialects, some of which are not mutually intelligible. Effort has been made to formalize Quechua so it can be taught in schools across Peru. Many people in Cusco speak Quechua in their homes, but they learn Spanish in schools, hear it on the radio and TV or at work. Spanish is the language of trade and commerce. Quechua is not used in newspapers, internet, or radio except a very few exceptions.
Elva is a co-founder Quechua Initiative in New York, but New York has not always been her home. She was born in Chincheros District, Apurimac, Peru, Her family moved from there to the city of Lima but her mother and father had difficulty providing for their ten children. Elva’s older sister went to New York, USA to work and Elva followed her. As a teenager, Elva made the trip with her husband. She worked, and had two children of her own. Through the encouragement of the people from a day care center where she worked, she started and graduated from college. Teaching and learning have been fundamental parts of her life.
Elva writes stories in Quechua, including a story of a boy from America who makes friends with a boy from Peru while fishing. They start to play and the boy from America loses sight of his parents. He speaks no Quechua and the little boy from Peru does not speak English. They work together to understand each other and eventually find the American boys parents. The parents meet and become friends with the Peruvian family. In this story she depicts how we can form understandings between people, and in the course of the tale introduces many Quechua words.
She talks about the beauty of the language by saying, “The sounds of Quechua come from the sounds of birds, of nature. Quechua cannot be taught without singing” There is singing at each “raymi andino (celebration and gathering of Andeans in New York). One song calls the Inca Child ( Here):
Ñoqan kani Intiq Churin, taytallaysi kachamuwan
Ñoqan kani Intiq wawan, taytallaysi kamachiwan
Ah ah ah
Taytallaysi kachamuwan, runaykunata maskamuy nispa
Ah ah ah
Taytallaysi kamachiwan, runasimita yachachiy nispa
Inka wawa ñoqa hina, may llaqtapin waqashanki
Intiq churin ñoqa hina, waqyayniyta uyariway
Ah ah ah
waqyayniyta uyarispa, taytanchiqwan kutirimuy
Ah ah ah
waqyayniyta uyarispa, ayllunchiqwan kutirimuy
Taytallaysi kachamuwan, runaykunata yachachiy nispa
Ama suwa, ama qella, ama llulla, ama map’a
Ah ah ah
Ama suwa, ama qella, allin kausaypi tiyananchiqpaq
Ah ah ah
Ama llulla, ama map’a, mana chinkakunanchiqpaq
Inka runa mana piniyoq, makillayta hap’iykuway
Inka wawa mana mayniyoq, kayman hamuy kay ñoqawan
Ah ah ah
Makillayta hap’iqtiyki, taytanchisman pusasqayki
Ah ah ah
Kay ñoqawan hamuqtiyki, runa simita yachachisqayki.
Wañuylla, wañuy wañucha, amaraq aparuwaychu
Karuraqmi puririnay, runaykunatan maskani
Karuraqmi puririnay, runa simitan yachachini.
I am a son of the Sun, going to those of my race.
I’m one of the children of the Sun, going to my people
I’m a child of the sun, coming for a purpose.
I’’ve come to find and gather the people of the Inca nation.
My purpose is to teach our values, and our Quechua language.
Inca child, like myself, in what country are you crying?
Child of the Sun, like myself, listen to my cry
If you listen to my calling, come back to our homeland and culture.
If you listen my calling, come back with our people and remake our nation.
I want to teach my people our traditions:
Don’’t steal, don’’t be lazy, don’’t lie, and don’’t be dirty.
Neither steal, nor be lazy, so that we may live well.
Be truthful and clean, so we won’’t be lost.
Inca people, you are alone in this world, hold my hand.
Inca child, you are not part of this world, come home with me.
If you come and hold my hand, I’’ll take you to our homeland.
If you come with me, I’’ll teach you our Inca language.
Death Oh death, do not take me away yet,
I still have a long way to go, I’m searching for my people.
I still have a long way to go, teaching the Inca way.
Elva has been featured in a documentary on Quechua. “Living Quechua” (Rumisimiwan Kawsay) is an award winning film about Elva’s journey from the Peru to New York and raises awareness of Quechua outside of the Andes. It has premiered in major cities worldwide, bringing attention not only to the social implications but also encouraging support for the Quechua Initiative, and will soon be available on DVD.
I asked her what she would like to say to Quechua speakers in Peru and elsewhere. She replied, “Don’t be ashamed, it is part of who you are. You need to have pride in your language and your culture”.
Quechua Dialects According to UNESCO*
In Ecuador and Peru the language name is spelled differently which required we download two maps from UNESCO’s Language Atlas to show the location and range of dialects, most of which probably are spoken in New York.