Can a Salvadoran Gang Save an Endangered Language?

Image source: Markarinafotos

Image source: Markarinafotos

“Every 14 days a language dies. By 2100, more than half of the more than 7,000 languages spoken on Earth—many of them not yet recorded—may disappear.” – National Geographic/Enduring Voices Project

A recent report by El Diario de Hoy about how Salvadoran gang members are learning Nahuat, caught my eye.

Members of La Mara Salvatrucha (also known as MS13), have been instructed by gang leaders to learn Nahuat and other indigenous languages of the Central American country; languages which are highly endangered or almost extinct, and some of which have less than 100 native speakers currently living, according to the report.

Unfortunately, the gang’s purpose of learning these languages isn’t at all altruistic and they have no intention of learning the languages fluently. Gang members have been instructed to learn enough vocabulary to create an indecipherable code which will make it more difficult for law enforcement to intercept their messages.

This is disappointing, of course, although maybe not surprising. We’re left then with the same question linguists always face: How can Nahuat and other endangered languages be saved? Is it enough to merely preserve records of the languages, (such as the video below), or should efforts be made to keep languages alive by encouraging native speakers to pass it on? What sort of encouragement or programs would be successful? Is it a losing battle? What do you think?


Learn Nahuat – Free Resources Online
Video: El Carbonero in Nahuat
Video: Himno a El Salvador en Nahuat
National Geographic: Enduring Voices Project

The Search For Salvadoran Characters


In response to the New York Times article regarding the lack of Latino authors and books for children, Latina bloggers have launched the “Latinas for Latino Literature” campaign which works to identify the problems in today’s publishing world that contribute to this lack of diversity so that we can provide ideas for changing the situation to the benefit of not only Latino readers and writers, but to the benefit of the industry itself as they tap into this growing demographic. Look out for forthcoming Google hangouts, Twitter parties, and follow-up posts as this coordinated effort to bring quality books to an emerging group of readers continues.

I kneeled on the coarse, crimson carpet at the library, the third library I had visited that week, trying to find something, anything, on the shelves about El Salvador – the native country of my new husband. I often left libraries and bookstores defeated, with a stack of novels about Mexico, Mexicans, migrant workers – stories that I ended up loving, and still love – but what I really wanted was a book with Salvadoran characters, and I couldn’t find any. Any book I did manage to find about El Salvador would be non-fiction, and usually about the civil war.

When I became a mother of two boys, two Salvadoran-American boys, I wanted desperately to buy them books and read them stories with characters they could relate to. Again, visits to the library and bookstore turned up books featuring Mexican and Mexican-American characters, when we were lucky.

These days, the library selection has gotten better, and the online selection is a dream come true compared to what I faced when my boys were younger. I’ve read books about Cubans and Puerto Ricans, Argentinians, Venezuelans, Guatemalans and Paraguayans, and thanks to Sandra Benitez, an amazing book called “Bitter Grounds” with a diverse Salvadoran cast. I stayed up late turning the pages, almost not believing that after so many years, I was finally reading a book with Salvadoran characters.

Why am I writing this? – Because I want the publishing industry to know that I am here – an avid reader, hungry for these books for myself, for my husband, for our boys, and for the children out there whose parents won’t go to the trouble I’ve gone to – the children who are at the mercy of whatever their school librarian decides to put on the shelves.

I want it to be known that I hunger for even more diversity, for Latin American characters and characters of Latin American descent from all walks of life. Don’t stop telling the story of the migrant worker, the immigrant, of Mexicans – but let us hear other voices too. We want to hear from characters who are rich, who are poor, and everything in between. We want characters who are white collar workers, and blue collar workers. We want characters who are beautiful, ugly, inspirational, relatable, flawed, ordinary, outrageous, wise, hilarious, serious, complex – in other words, we want all the diversity of voices that are available in the general market. Please, keep seeking out fresh authors and publishing their stories – We are here waiting for them, (and in some cases, some of us are here writing them, too.)

A few of my favorite books for children. Click the image for more.

A few of my favorite books for children. Click the image for more.

These are some of my favorite Middle Grade and YA books. Click the image for more.

These are some of my favorite Middle Grade and YA books. Click the image for more.

These are some of my favorite books for adults. Click the image to check out more.

These are some of my favorite books for adults. Click the image to check out more.

Do you feel there’s enough diversity in the books commonly available in bookstores and libraries? Which Latino/a author or book most influenced you and why?

Chécalo: Other “Latinas for Latino Literature

Team USA! (Made in China)

Controversy broke out when it was discovered that the 2012 Olympics uniforms for Team USA were made in China. (Read more on There was so much outrage regarding Team USA’s uniforms that the sponsor (Ralph Lauren), has now promised that they’ll “manufacture uniforms domestically for the 2014 games.”

The timing of this story couldn’t be more perfect. Just the other day I spotted the clearance rack of Independence Day shirts at Wal-Mart. Carlos and I noticed a couple years ago that they were made in El Salvador – (for some reason this always amuses us.) So I went to check this year’s stock of American flag shirts, and sure enough – “HECHO EN EL SALVADOR.”

Celebrate U.S. Independence Day with a shirt made in El Salvador

What do you think about items with the American flag, (or American flags themselves), as well as the Team USA Olympics uniforms being made in other countries?

If our economy was running well and the jobs weren’t needed, would your opinion change? Why or why not?

Please refrain from throwing tortas at Chicharito

I didn’t think I’d be making a public service announcement today regarding the El Salvador vs. Mexico game, but a conversation with a friend this morning made me realize there are some issues that should be discussed, and if this helps change the behavior of even one person, pues, vale la pena.

Okay, guanacos, you know I love you all con todo mi corazón, right? You know I’m cheering for La Selecta in tonight’s game against Mexico, even though I also cheer for El Tri when they don’t play El Salvador. I’m aware that you guys have issues with each other and that Mexico can be equally disrespectful when El Salvador plays on their turf, (yes, I remember las abejas en la porteria), but where does it end, hermanos?

If Salvadorans are disrespectful to the Mexican team and Mexicans are disrespectful to the Salvadoran team, the cycle will continue to repeat itself. Look, I know it’s difficult. I have two sisters and when we’d get into a slap fight, we would keep slapping each other back and forth – always wanting to be the one to get the last slap in. Usually at some point I would slap my sister and run off until she forgot to slap me back later… (“Haha! Got you last!”) – But this situation is a little different. Someone has to have the maturity and self-discipline to let the other have the last slap.

Didn’t your abuela tell you, “Ojo por ojo y el mundo quedará ciego”? … Wait.. maybe that was Gandhi that said that. Gandhi would have made a good abuela. Anyway… Okay, your Nana probably told you, “Eh! Vos! Pórtate bien, cipote!… Qué bicho más malcriado, hijueputa…” – That’s not as inspirational, but good enough.

Last night Salvadorans stayed up all night making noise outside the Hotel Real Intercontinental in San Salvador where El Tri is staying. The intention was to disrupt the Mexican team’s sleep – but can I tell you something? I stayed at that hotel last summer and I can almost guarantee that the Mexican team didn’t hear a peep. The windows are really thick and I couldn’t hear anything down on the street below when we were there. Besides, even if it was loud enough to be heard, the Mexican team is already hip to this trick. Don’t you think that by now they’ve invested in some nice noise cancelling headphones? El Tri probably slept very comfortably, meanwhile, the Salvadorans down on the street missed a whole night’s sleep. Doesn’t make much sense, does it?

If these kinds of “pep rallies” were all that went on, then I would say está bien, it’s harmless, but things can get a lot more disrespectful and even violent. Apparently someone threw a torta at Chicharito. It sounds funny but come on, let’s talk about this seriously for a moment. Gente decente no se hace eso. First of all, Chicharito is a person with feelings. This was just incredibly rude. Second, this stupid act by one person reflects badly on all Salvadorans. Third, this happened when El Tri got off the bus in front of the Real Intercontinental. I have walked down that street, (Boulevard de Los Heroes) and I can promise you that there were at least three hungry people begging within a half block of that torta hitting the pavement. As my suegra would say, “Qué pecado” … Shame on you for wasting food like that.

This is a beautiful game. Use your passion to support your team in a positive way – not on negativity. Whose with me?

Chicharito image source: Ed Schipul at the White House – The Issues

On May 21st I attended the LATISM Top Bloguera Retreat in Washington, D.C. and part of that event included a White House briefing on issues affecting the Latino community. Today I want to share my experience and some of the things I learned which I think are worth passing on.

The main issues discussed were Health and Education, however, that didn’t stop Meagan Ortiz of Vivir Latino from kicking things off with a very good question regarding immigration. Of course the answer to the question was less than satisfying to anyone who has long supported comprehensive immigration reform, but perhaps that was to be expected.

(Check out Meagan’s thoughts on her experience here.)

Meagan’s question seemed to ignite others. Passionate blogueras lined up and asked very brave and difficult questions. I was proud to be in a room full of women who weren’t afraid to stand up and speak their minds.

Roxana Soto of SpanglishBaby asked about bilingual education and the possibility of more dual immersion schools – again, the answer she/we were given, didn’t satisfy me, but I still feel that our voices were heard, and that’s a start.

(Check out Roxana’s thoughts on her experience here.)

While the blogueras were given plenty of time to ask questions, the White House also had plenty of talking points and messages they wanted to get out to us and to the Latino community as well. Here is video I took, highlighting some of the parts I found most informative.

Here are some links to learn more about the programs mentioned in the video: (Nutrition Assistance Programs)
La Mesa Completa
Let’s Move!
Let’s Move! – Spanish version/español
Choose My Plate
Choose My Plate/Mi Plato – Spanish version/español


What information did you find most useful or surprising? What question would you have asked? at the White House

As you all know, I attended the LATISM “Top Bloguera” Retreat in Washington, D.C. Since coming back home I’ve had a lot to catch up on with work, my family, the household, and on top of that, we’ve been having some suegra drama so I haven’t had the luxury of sorting out my thoughts on the event, (let alone my videos and all my photos!)

I did write a recap for Latina Bloggers Connect though, and here is what I said, in part:

“Me personally, I’m still processing it all. I’m the type that needs a few days to think before I can say for certain what conclusion I’ve come to, but I can say with certainty that the event did the following for me:

The Top Bloguera Retreat encouraged me to re-think what I put my energy into and to consider whether I need to re-focus or re-distribute that energy in a different way for more satisfying payoffs, (emotional as well as financial.) – Now you know why I have a lot of thinking to do!”

(Read the rest at: Latina Bloggers Connect.)

The White House briefing was really informative. The Obama Administration has done a lot of things that benefit not just the Latino community, but all communities, and I’m hoping to bring you the highlights of what I learned in an upcoming post.

For now, check out the White House blog: #LatismAtTheWH – Latinos Active in Social Media Visit the White House.

When Pandilleros Attend Mass and Other Life Lessons

I went to to check out photos of El Salvador’s momentous win last night against the U.S., but as is my habit, I became distracted by something else.

A still image in the sidebar of a tattooed marero (gang member), taking communion, made me pause. The story title: Pandilleros piden una oportunidad. I clicked through to the video and found it too moving not to share.

I don’t consider myself religious, but something about this video touched me. Looking at those faces, behind the tattoos, I see young men who were once little boys, and for whatever reason, they made mistakes that led them to where they are. Many of them come from poverty or abusive homes. Neglected by parents or orphaned by war, they sought to “belong” and that is a big attraction to gang life – it’s the family one never had.

“Siempre han dicho que nosotros somos la escoria y lo peor del mundo. Nosotros crecimos en un época de conflicto y en ese época tapamos nuestros valores con cosas negativas, pero estamos dispuestos a cambiar, si nos ayudan.” – source

[“They’ve always said that we’re the scum and the worst of the world. We grew up in an era of conflict and in that time we covered our values ​​with negative things, but we are willing to change, if you help us.”]

“Nosotros estamos de buena fe, queremos seguir adelantes. Estamos consciente de que les hemos fallado a Dios, y a la sociedad, y aquí en nombre de toda mi pandilla, la MS13, quiero pedirle perdón, a la sociedad, y que nos dé una oportunidad de poder cambiar… nosotros también somos salvadoreños, nosotros también somos seres humanos.” – source: MS13 gang member in the video

[“We are of good faith, we want to move on. We are aware that we have failed God, and society, and here, on behalf of my gang, MS13, I apologize, I want to ask for forgiveness, from society, and ask that you give us an opportunity to change … we too are Salvadorans, we too are human beings.”]

What would happen if we always believed the best about others, rather than the worst?…Maybe people live up to expectations.

Image source: Both images are screen captures from the video by
More images worth seeing: