With the justification of an “administrative adjustment”, on December 9, the federal government presented an initiative so that the National Institute of Indigenous Languages (Inali) to merge with the National Institute of Indigenous Peoples (INPI), although the measure has yet to be discussed and approved by the Chamber of Deputies, for specialists the disappearance of this body paints a very worrying panorama.
In interview for The Economist, the linguist Fernando Nava López, former founding director general of the Inali (2004-2010) said: “I am absolutely against the measure that is intended because if the principle responds to the non-duplication of functions, I cannot find what other institution is training interpreters or working on the genealogical classification of languages to optimize distribution or translation of materials ”.
He warns that “Mexico is one of the eight countries with the greatest diversity of languages on the planet and we cannot be indifferent from the social, institutional and governmental point of view to this linguistic wealth that we are literally taking it out of the game. We are ignoring, weakening and belittling it. Today we are doing worse things even than in the conquest, from the point of view of ignorance of the rights of the populations, ”he says.
It also points out that the initiative takes place “at a particularly special moment, since the International Decade of Indigenous Languages 2022-2032 begins and the measure with which Mexico receives this chapter is by disappearing its institute of indigenous languages.”
Nava López assures that the Inali it is very necessary for the fulfillment of the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples. “Mexico as a State does not have a public policy for its languages, something that is necessary for social equity, what has been done is to impose Spanish. In this sense the Inali it has an area of linguistic policy that advances in guidelines of social equity in the matter of indigenous languages, with a mediation that seeks an equitable scenario ”.
Another fundamental area that is not covered by any other institution – he said – is that of research on the diversity of languages. “From the outset, many name languages as dialects, one of the strongest linguistic prejudices rooted in national society that see indigenous languages with an inferior and racist status, for this reason the area of cataloging research is very important.”
Nava López, member of the Mexican Academy of Language, explains that languages in the world are a very special topic for countries, insofar as it is a component that links speakers with their history, their own present, cultural background, and identity; “Not for nothing in universities there are specific areas for teaching second languages and the mother tongue itself. This is a global behavior that reveals the importance of languages ”.
He said that unfortunately in countries like ours we have suffered great racism that becomes a violation of human rights, fundamental rights that are increasingly being defined and defended by international organizations such as the United Nations (UN).
“The right to the mother tongue has been gaining a very important specificity, but in Mexico we have express policies against indigenous languages, since the literacy campaigns have concealed a delinguism of a subtractive nature, that is, the indigenous language is taught but guiding a Castilianization and a transition towards the exclusive use of Spanish, leaving indigenous languages in oblivion, fortunately we have a lot of cultural resistance so that languages continue to live with their thousands of speakers ”.
The Inali as a response to a social struggle and academic debate
The linguist explains that since the middle of the last century and in the last decades there have been writers, activists, researchers and communities who have spoken out for the officialization of indigenous languages, as well as different movements to raise the status of languages and that, from the point of view From a governmental point of view, specific attention was given. Until before, for example, the National Indigenous Institute never had a specific program of linguistic strengthening based on the fact that the aspirations were the incorporation of indigenous people into what was understood as national life.
“When a law is generated to give the character of national languages, together with Spanish, and later the Mexican sign language, in that scenario the Inali begins to be an institutional platform with specific resources to train interpreters and translators who will begin to professionalize care for indigenous people ”, for example, for those indicted in judicial processes, in the improvement of indigenous education, or in the field of health to facilitate communication.
He said that the story of the Inali could start from the agreement 169 of the International Labor Organization of the late 80s, which was signed by Mexico shortly after, “this is one of the binding instruments at the international level, this for the country is a law only below of the Constitution, that is, it is a very serious and high-impact commitment ”.
This instrument recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples, including language. This is where a series of movements and demands originate, with forums at the level of institutions and political organizations to create government media that favor indigenous languages. In this scenario, when the Zapatista movement emerged in 1994, part of the negotiations considered the creation of the Inali between the federal party and the contending parties. The Institute agreed in 2003 to form its national council and in 2005 it obtained its own budget.
“It is said in very few words but there is an entire academic work, of social struggle, debates, where the center of attention was in the fulfillment of the law (…) Changing these achievements is a wrong decision and we hope that those who have the decision in your hands reconsider ”, he says.
Inali, a history in decline
The Institute was consolidated in its early days with a staff of 100 people and a budget of 110 million. Before it completed its first six-year period, it suffered a reduction in its workforce, directorships, headquarters, and a consequent budget reduction were eliminated; This occurred in the transition of the government of Vicente Fox to the government of Felipe Calderon. In this six-year term, the Inali in 2020 it had a budget of 76 million pesos per year, by 2021 it was 68 million, by 2022 it will be 71 million, this already with a workforce much less than the 100 people it once had. “We see a very drastic reduction in the institutions dedicated to indigenous peoples, so it is a scenario that complicates specialization and true care.”