Has the Recapture of Culture Gone Too Far?

By: Lisa Coleman

When the mayor of Mexico City, Marcel Ebrard, installed an ice skating rink in the middle of the zocalo for Christmas, I thought it was a rather grand gesture. Yet, I know the poverty levels of this massive city and skating during the holidays was something most Mexicans could never have imagined. Even though it was a bit “out there,” it seemed to make the people happy… so no harm done. Hey, it was Christmas, good will, good tidings, strange ideas…. it all works with trees and lights.

So what’s the story now? (Other than Mr. Mayor setting up sand “beaches” in public parks.) Well, it seems the mayor has decided that it would be a good idea to recapture Mexico City’s ancient culture by having ALL city employees (from bus drivers to hospital workers) learn the Aztec language of Nahuatl. Okay, seriously, is this guy a few pucks short of a goal? 

He wants to “revive the ancient tongue.” It’s just my opinion, but my guess is that a city the size of Mexico City (with an overflow of SERIOUS issues) might need to spend time on something other than learning how to communicate in Nahuatl. I am all for preserving culture. I get it, I respect it. But come on… This is a language that was dominant in central Mexico over 1,000 years ago. Of  the whopping 107 million people in Mexico, only 1.4 million still speak in this ancient tongue.

The theory is that many of the poor migrant workers who come to the city for jobs only speak this language and are therefore further discriminated against. But, according to reports, there are only about 30,000 of these Nahuatl guys. So, does it makes sense to educate 300,000 city employees through classroom sessions and online courses so they understand this tiny slice of the population? Kind of seems “bass ackwards”” to me.

I am all for educating the public (not just city workers) about their culture… but there simply has to be a better, smarter way. Maybe provide free public seminars or events to perpetuate the study of the language? Maybe offer Spanish classes to those only speak Nahuatl? Maybe offer incentive to Nahuatl speakers to teach classes to the work force? Just thinking outloud here… but there has to be something else, anything else other than this plan.  Mexico City needs far more than a language class to keep pace with the problems at hand.  I think Marcelo Ebrard is on some thin ice with this one.