Proud to Be Me'phaa

Leti, a young Me’phaa woman from Zoquitlán, Mexico, recently attended an SIL-sponsored writers' workshop. Leti is working and attending college in Chilpancingo, the capital of the state of Guerrero, where she is studying to become a teacher. She has completed her coursework and only needs to write her thesis to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Although Leti is now multilingual, she only spoke Me’phaa as a child. In many of the smaller communities in Mexico, local languages are used for instruction in the lower grades because most of the children are monolingual. However, the children are not usually taught to read and write in their own languages since there are few, if any, written materials available in their languages. By the time these students enter middle school, most of the instruction is in Spanish, even though many children do not speak Spanish fluently by then. Most boys quit school after sixth grade, which is the end of compulsory attendance, and they begin working as migrant field laborers. Some girls also quit school at that time to prepare for marriage. Leti, however, was able to continue her studies by living at a boarding school throughout high school. Leti is highly motivated to complete her education and help other Me’phaa students do the same.

When SIL linguists Aaron and Christy Hemphill invited Leti to the writers' workshop for speakers of languages other than Spanish, she eagerly accepted. The workshop was designed to foster a sense of pride in the speakers of other languages. In addition, participants learned about the writing process: brainstorming, drafting, revising and editing. Finally, they produced a wide range of materials in their languages. For example, they each created a journal, a short story, a personal memoir, a non-fiction description and explanation of a cultural practice, a children’s fable, a cautionary tale, a short play, a poem, an alphabet book, a selection of riddles and tongue twisters and several promotional items, such as a t-shirt and a pen with slogans in their own languages. All of the workshop participants also created “big books” and were taught techniques for public reading to groups of children or other beginning readers.
At the writers' workshop, Leti was moved by the presentations and group discussions aimed at engendering pride in one's language and heritage. After years of hearing some Spanish speakers remark that her language was only a “dialect,” she realized that Me’phaa is a “real language” after all. In fact, when she designed a slogan for a pen, she proudly wrote, “Yes, I am Me’phaa! You want to make something of it?”

Leti is part of a growing team of people interested in helping with translation and literacy promotion in their languages.


Download story written by Leti




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