Monthly Archives: January 2016


– estoy volviendo a la llaqta – I’m coming back!

My plane leaves for the Andes tomorrow. They say home is where the heart is – and this means I have more than one home.

As I contemplate where I am going, I remember a vivid paragraph from a favorite book called “Blanche Cleans Up” by Boston author Barbara Neely. In it she describes the thoughts of an African American woman, Blanche White, as she walks from her job cleaning the home of a wealthy client in Brookline, along past familiar landmarks into Roxbury where she feels the comfort of community. It’s a wonderful, hilarious and challenging book.

That same trek from Roxbury to Brookline and back is one I have made for nearly a decade. I find comfort and community in both places – and an astonishing array of barriers to authentic movement between the two worlds.

But the journey I’m about to embark on spans an even larger physical and cultural space. I’ve been going to Cochabamba for forty years now – as a teenager, young woman, mother of small children and now mother of grown children – first and always as a language learner and lover of music. My professional role now is ‘linguist’ and ‘educator’ and I am proud to wear these hats in relationship to communities for whom they make a difference in terms of breaking down barriers.

In Barbara Neely’s book, the protagonist is a woman of color who crosses many racial, cultural and class boundaries and exposes them as they arise. My own color (pink) is usually the color of privilege, and it is the one I was born with and grew into. But the color and experience of privilege is always changing in subtle ways depending on who we relate to and what we hope to be for each other. Boundaries and privilege only remain if people agree on them, and life usually calls on us to cross over both.

My first stop in Cochabamba will be in the household of the family who hosted me for a year in 1976 and who shaped my journey in unforgettable ways. In recent years various members of that family have asked where I developed such an interest in the Quechua language, and I’ve told them “In your home!” The process of distancing oneself from the ancestral languages is intense and seems to grow with time – akin to the process of ‘passing for white’ or ethnic/cultural/linguistic assimilation in the US and other places. It has to do with people deciding to ally themselves with whatever seems most fruitful for themselves and their children. Sometimes it’s a matter of survival. I don’t know if this generation is distancing itself from the grandparents’ languages more intensely now than in 1976, or if I am simply crossing that boundary more often than I could back then. I only know that it is a hot issue.

The contested value of Quechua is a major reason why it’s important to learn to speak it, and help communities to appreciate and document the language today.