Language Activists | Endangered Language & Poetry in Mexico
Víctor Terán faces an increasingly common problem: his language is dying. His solution is radical—he is an Isthmus Zapotec poet.
THE SHORT OF IT The world is home to almost 7,000 languages, but some 90% of them will go extinct in the next 100 years. Isthmus Zapotec, spoken by about 100,000 indigenous Mexicans in Oaxaca, faces a dire threat: fewer and fewer children are learning it, favoring Spanish for a variety of reasons.
Languages die incredibly quickly; within the span of three generations a language can be entirely gone. There are powerful socioeconomic reasons for abandoning indigenous languages, but often more practical issues contribute equally to their attrition. Imagine not being able to access entertainment in your mother tongue; not being able to read a book or listen to the radio or watch television in it.
A brave community of Isthmus Zapotec poets and artists refuse to give up in their fight against linguistic attrition—they're writing in their mother tongue, Diixda—Zapotec, maintaining its vitality and uniqueness in an increasingly homogenous world. Their solution is radical: they are Isthmus Zapotec poets.
Los Angeles-based artists Ben Rodkin and David Shook are collaborating to document the life and work of contemporary Isthmus Zapotec artists and poets, by producing both a short-subject documentary film and a 5-chapbook set of indigenous Mexican poetry.
(Poet Víctor Terán reads his work in Isthmus Zapotec, Photo © Crispin Hughes, 2010)
("Sapporo," Painting/Collage by Soid Pastrana © 2011)
THE MOVIEFilmmakers David Shook and Ben Rodkin will travel to Oaxaca for the month of March, living alongside Víctor Terán and other Zapotec artists to document their practice and lives. Postproduction will commence on 1 April, and a short-subject film of 15 - 25 minutes will be ready for festival submission by early June. Rodkin, Shook, Terán, and other special guests will document the entire project on the project website.
Trailer for KILOMETER ZERO, a covertly filmed documentary about poets in Equatorial Guinea
Shook and Rodkin have collaborated on projects shot in Kenya, Burundi, and Equatorial Guinea, to produce lyrical documentary films. By focusing on individuals and their stories they're able to humanize issues that are too often discussed only in the abstract.
More Examples of Rodkin-Shook Collaborations
Trailer for WE ARE BATWA, about the Batwa of Burundi
Trailer for TURKANA, about the Turkana of Northern Kenya
THE BOOKSIn addition to their documentary, and in partnership with Phoneme Books, a publisher of world literature in translation, this Kickstarter project will fund the publication of a five chapbook set of indigenous Mexican poetry by some of Mexico's best established and emerging talents. Terán and Shook will co-edit the set, and the edition will be overseen by Phoneme Director Brian Hewes. Chapbook publication will kick off Phoneme's continued publication of indigenous Mexican literature, and will be available for purchase at major book retailers throughout the United States, Europe, and the world. The set includes chapbooks of work by Víctor Terán (Isthmus Zapotec), Briceida Cuevas Cob (Yucatec Maya), Juan Gregorio Regino (Mazatec), Angélica Ortiz (Huichol), and Mikeas Sánchez (Zoque).
(Poet Víctor Terán dances with a Zapotec woman in traditional dress.)
WHAT YOUR SUPPORT MEANS
Every dollar donated toward this project is a dollar toward the celebration and conservation of some of North America's most endangered languages. In addition to that, we have developed some pretty great rewards for donors at different levels of support, from $10 to $5,000.
The below artwork by Demian Flores and Soid Pastrana exemplifies the contemporary Isthmus Zapotec style, and Kickstarter donors at the appropriate reward levels can expect similar work.
We take your donations very seriously, and commit to spending your money as wisely as possible. We welcome your questions.
(A collaboration between poet Víctor Terán and Zapotec painter Soid Pastrana, featuring Terán's poem "I Know Your Body," an example of the type of collaborative work that will be offered as part of Reward #5.)
(Artwork below by Demian Flores, © 2011)
WHO'S WHOVíctor Terán is an Isthmus Zapotec poet in Juchitan, Oaxaca, and an important cultural leader among his community, where he mentors several young Zapotec artists.
David Shook, a young American poet, is his translator.
(David Shook andVíctor Terán, Photo © Crispin Hughes, 2010)
Their collaborations have appeared in Poetry, World Literature Today, PN Review, Hayden's Ferry Review, and a lot of other fine magazines, and have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. In 2010 they toured the UK with the Poetry Translation Centre, appearing on BBC4, Deutsch Welle, and Radio Nederlands. A chapbook of their work is available from the Poetry Translation Centre, and many of their bilingual recordings are available on the PTC's website.
Ben Rodkin is a director and writer, most recently of Big Heart City. For the past three years he has documented the work of Mexican migrant farmworkers in California's Central Valley on black-and-white Super 16mm. film, a project called Merciful Men.
"Rodkin draws comparisons to John Cassavetes." -IFC
"Rodkin is a talented new director." -The Hollywood Reporter
"...watch for what Rodkin does next." -The Los Angeles Times
- (30 days)