Quechua-Spanish Bilinguals

Sociolinguistic Racialized Experiences in Higher Education

By Yuliana Kenfield

Quechua, a 1000-year-old indigenous language, is an official language of Peru. One out of every nine Peruvians speaks the language. In the rural areas, the figure soars to six out of every ten Peruvians. In Cusco region, both rural and urban, Quechua is still the primary language of more than half its total population. An explanation for this disparity between urban and rural use of Quechua may stem from historically scarce resources for Castilian educational reforms in rural areas of Peru.

Peru is one of the few countries in Latin America and the Caribbean that officially recognizes an indigenous language. Despite this, Quechuan peoples often won’t find a social worker, a nurse, a doctor, a lawyer or a teacher who speaks their language. Thus, they cannot participate fully in Perú’s education, health services, and economy. Discriminatory practices have been institutionalized; local people are not part of any decision-making process because top-down resolution of issues without local input continues.

Quechua speakers primarily have been engaged in agriculture, an activity with a very strong link with the Quechua language. However, when Quechua speakers migrate to cities like Cusco to seek employment or higher education at the university, they are at an extreme disadvantage because Spanish is the primary, often sole, language spoken and written.

Historically, this language was promoted during the Inka and Colonial eras. However, after the revolt against the Spanish Viceroyalty in Peru led by Tupac Amaru II and Micaela Bastidas, policies were created to facilitate the disappearance of the Quechua language as punishment for its use throughout the indigenous and mestizo uprising of the 18th century. In the 20th century, the situation changed and legislation recognized several languages, including Quechua.

But inequalities persist. A good first step toward resolving this situation is to honor the importance of the Quechua language—requiring Quechua-Spanish bilingual professionals to use Quechua in all negotiations and transactions pertaining to Quechuan communities. In the Universidad San Antonio Abad del Cusco, the region’s only public university, the bilingual Spanish-Quechua student population that has Quechua as their mother tongue exceeds 30% of its total population, yet only 2% of Quechuan college students use their birth language while in college.

Will these future professionals contribute to resolving the inequities of access to public systems for the Quechuan peoples, or will they endorse the status quo of Spanish-dominant communication? Why is this thirty percent of the student population who enter college as Quechua-Spanish bilinguals not being encouraged to sustain their use of Quechua?

Indeed, an effort exists to increase the number of young professionals who speak Quechua., Universities in Cusco, for instance, offer the Quechua language as one option among the requirements to graduate. Even with this emphasis, Quechua ranks third to Italian and English as a language choice by students. Why is this? Thirty percent of the student population in Cusco comes to college as Quechua-Spanish bilinguals already but what happens to these students is alarming.

Original Title: Universitarios Andinos

Translated Title: Andean college students

Figure 1 N. Gomez Gomez, 2018

Bilingual students choose to stop speaking their mother language Quechua because they believe it will harm their Spanish skills, according to studies on the subject. This subtractive view of Quechua-Spanish bilingualism is rooted in negative language attitudes and discriminatory acts that the Quechuan students suffer when speaking their Spanish bilingual variation of Spanish. This variation is characterized for carrying morphosyntactic and phonological features from Quechua into Spanish.

Andean college students in Cusco, Peru, struggle to overcome discrimination against Quechua-Spanish bilingualism during college.

In pursuit of this goal, bilingual Quechua-Spanish college students at the San Antonio de Abad Public University (UNSAAC) became participants in the Photovoice program in 2017 to raise awareness of Quechua-Spanish bilingual ideologies in Cusco through the presentation of visual metaphors in photo exhibitions. Photovoice refers to participatory visual methodology, as well as the photographs produced by participants engaged in the process. Photovoices document the situations that matter to the participants and serve to stimulate critical discussions with community members, as well as policy makers, to improve a particular situation. 


Recognizing Supay Within Oneself

Bilingual students are well aware of racial discrimination based on speaking Quechua and having a Quechua last name. Their self-suppression of their bilingual ability reveals students’ perception that internal colonialism is still present among students and faculty. Recognizing the supay is necessary to trace it and individually or collectively dismantle it.

Supay (coloniality force), as a Quechua verb, means acting in a malicious or malevolent manner, this acting with ill intent holds the possibility of change. In this article, the Supay theme focuses on how students identify the wrong-acting of the collective unconscious as well as how photovoice participants, bilingual college students, challenge this maleficent act that limits the Quechua-Spanish bilingual practices. Photovoice participants identified a supay present in different spheres: individual, communal, and institutional.

As an example, I draw on the description provided by one of the photovoice participants, Diana. Diana depicts supay poignantly in her selection of visuals and narrative presented in the brochure of her photovoice study (Figure 2).


To Act with Ill Intent Yet with Transformative Potential

Figure 2. An entry in the brochurecreated collectively to show some of the photographs of the photovoice participants, as well as their narratives. D. Ventura Aucca, 2017.

Original text:

Foto metafórica que representa la belleza del quechua en la flor de papa y el hecho de que la zapatilla este sobre la flor representa los prejuicios y las discriminaciones por las cuales no se utiliza el quechua dentro de la universidad.

Translated text:

Metaphorical photo that represents the beauty of Quechua, as seen in the potato flower; the fact that the shoe looms over the flower represents the prejudice and discrimination that cause Quechua to not be used inside the university.

Diana took a picture of herself about to stamp on the flower. Her visual metaphor clearly demonstrates supay as a self-oppressive force feeding off the prejudice and discrimination that restricts the use of the Quechua language at the university.

The bilingual students face ongoing supay when enacting their Quechuan practices rooted in collective memories and knowledge, decolonial forces that call for social justice for Quechua peoples. Despite these limitations, Andean students also recognize the importance of their background and commitment to the Quechuan peoples through lazos (ties).

Lazos has helped create personal spaces within the university through decolonial gestures towards supporting the use of Quechua, to gain respect for Quechuan peoples and Quechuan knowledges, and to battle against negative views of bilingual students. These actions in turn encourage Quechua to flourish on campus.

Nilda’s photograph shows the symbolic evidence of the Incan presence. We have two flags: the Peruvian flag, white and red, and the flag of Tahuantinsuyo (that name of the territory occupied by the Incan civilization), the colors of the rainbow. We also have an example of a Quechua tradition called Tupay, an annual celebration in Kunturkanki that perhaps dates to pre-Incan times and has taken on elements from the colonial period such as the use of the imagery of the horse. Although Nilda links the Quechua language with the Incas, she also claims to be aware that valorizing Quechua is not just about treating it as an object of folklore but also about planning for its permanence in new generations using concrete facts (Figure 3).



Figure 3. Entry in the brochure. N. Conde Banda, 2017.


Original Text:

En algunas circunstancias solo utilizamos el quechua con otros fines sin darle el valor que se merece y a muchos que lo utilizan solo sus insultos en sus cantos carnavalescos o eventos folclóricos, pero esto no debería ser todo. cuando el quechua se debería de difundir más para que nosotros como descendientes incas nos sien tamos más orgullo de nuestra identidad y lengua.

Translated Text:

In some circumstances we only use Quechua for other purposes, without giving it the value it deserves. And many only use it for their insults, in their carnival songs or folkloric events. But this shouldn’t be the end of it. Instead, Quechua should be spread more, so that we, as descendants of the Incas, feel more pride in our identity and language.

Collective Memory in Motion

For many students, their reason for speaking Quechua is closely linked to their socioecological roots, a collective historical identity that resonates to their present through the linguistic practices of their communities, their cultural practices, and their grandparents. Students state that this past—which flows in the present—causes them to continue their bilingual practices in opposition to a society that still cultivates an inferiority complex associated with such practices.

When bilingual students speak Quechua, it is part of their experience passing through Quechua and non-Quechua spaces yet also of carrying space-time in their memories. Through his photography (Figure 4), Gabriel Quispe Huayhua shows us the vitality of the Quechua language that allows him to inhabit the past and present in space and time.

Collective memory relates directly to the Quechua language for students. That is why they believe bilingual practices sustain memories of their origins. For them, origins define their past and present as a continual march forward in their Quechua communities through iterative cultural practices and pertinent references to ancient Incan and pre-Incan civilizations.

A particular space that Andean students identified as a place where they can nurture Quechuan knowledges and practice the Quechua language is the Intercultural Volunteering Hatun Ñan group (VIHÑ, Spanish-Quechua Acronym). This is a student group managed by students who self-identify as indigenous either Andean or Amazonian. Photovoice participants in this study are active members in the VIHÑ who collectively, constantly battle the deficit views to their bilingual and multicultural backgrounds.

Although VIHÑ’s cultural activities for university students within and outside the university campus have enabled the organization has promoted the valorization of Quechua at the university, the photovoice sessions allowed the students to formulate new proposals for intercultural dialogue. The VIHÑ students are keen to expand their intercultural dialogues, to have more dialogue between students, and to extend intercultural dialogue to Quechua communities (Figure 4).



Figure 4. G. Quispe Huayhua, 2017






















Connection to the Quechua community through the critical collective memory, sense of collective justice and communal Quechua knowledges are sources of support that bilingual students know they must practice if they wish to sustain their Quechua language. These students desire support from the university community, hoping it will increase its appreciation of and connection to the Quechua language to truly serve all citizens of the region and the country. Photovoice participants shared personal experiences as bilingual students facing barriers to maintaining their Quechua language, and then shared their proposals for encouraging their university create a fertile terrain for bilingualism, rooting out ideologies of deficits towards Quechua, and promoting T’ikarinanpaq, the fomenting of Quechuan practices, both language and culture, in college.

As tangible evidence of equality and respect, they perceive achieving Quechua T’ikaraninpaq as closely linked to language equity, a crucial right that is often lessened for Quechua speakers since this population lacks equal access to basic services and their view of the (Andean) world is ignored and delegitimized. Ultimately, demanding respect for the Quechua language is their primary vehicle for attaining T’ikarinanpaq.

Bilingual students after discussing ways to support the blossoming of Quechuan practices in college

Yuliana Kenfield is a Quechua scholar who is currently an Assistant Professor of the Bilingual/ESL program at the University of Texas Permian Basin. Her work focuses in sociolinguistic ideologies and practices among Quechua-Spanish and Spanish-English bilinguals. For Dra, Yuliana, all people bring a history and dynamic that enriches the journey of learning to better serve the bilingual communities. Facebook: Ayllu Multilingue