PERU: Fighting the odds to keep Indian tongues alive

In his first year at San Marcos University in Peru, Hermenegildo Espejo barely spoke, and certainly not in class, writes Frank Bajak for Associated Press. His Spanish was rudimentary, his accent an embarrassment. Classmates in Lima, a two-day trip from his Amazon home town, laughed at his grammatical stumbles. Six years later, Espejo is a thesis away from a degree in linguistics at Peru's top public university. While his Spanish is now excellent, it is not his priority. He aspires to produce the first unified grammar of Awajun, his native tongue.

"I didn't understand anything. I couldn't pronounce words well," the 22-year-old Peruvian Indian recalls, wincing as he gazes out a taxi window on a rutted jungle road near his home.

Espejo's story highlights the two biggest challenges Latin America's indigenous people face in their struggle to preserve their cultures: keeping their native languages alive and empowering themselves through education.

Throughout Latin America, native languages are disappearing and Indians are under intense pressure to speak Spanish. At the same time, Indians have little access to post-secondary education. They are ill-prepared by sub-standard schools, afflicted by high dropout rates and usually short on financial help.
Full report on the Associated Press site