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Do You Speak Mam? Growth of Oakland’s Guatemalan Community Sparks Interest In Indigenous Language

 August 6, 2019 at 10:24 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 Immigrants and asylum seekers that come to the United States often head to places where they know people and in Oakland there's a growing community from rural Guatemala that speaks an indigenous language called Moan as part of our California dream collaboration. KQ Edis for Rita, Jia Bula Romero went to a class where English and Spanish speakers are learning the mon language Speaker 2: 00:23 and then a call that the [inaudible] a handful of adults said in the Latin x Cultural Center at Laney Community College. They practice saying, good afternoon and mum with teacher Henry Sallis. Carl later salads writes on the whiteboard, let's go eat and show students word by word. Cool. [inaudible] oh, the students laugh at themselves through practice. I mean there they're Nina. Yeah. What is taking the class? She volunteers at a Sunday school where many of the kids only speak mom and I want them to hear me speak mom so that they see that I'm also learning and trying hard to learn a different language because that's what they're doing. She wants the kids to feel proud of their language and culture. I say bondish left for good afternoon. I hope. I said that right. And then it's really easy cause that's, thank you. And we always tried to teach the kids, um, good manners after we give them their snacks and helps the kids open up. She says they trust her more. And even the parents too, if I greet them and in mom they smile and I think they feel, uh, that I'm, I care more about them. There's no official count of mom people in Oakland, but the community has grown rapidly to at least several thousand. And as more moms speakers come, the city needs more people able to talk with them, to connect them to schools and services Speaker 1: 01:57 as there so many newcomers, they're having a great need to, to, to serve those people. And what they have found out is that they don't speak Spanish necessarily. Speaker 2: 02:06 Arturo Davila is a Spanish professor that coordinates the Latin x Cultural Center at Laney. He says they've gotten requests for mom interpreters, Speaker 1: 02:15 interpreters for medical clinics or legal clinics. Speaker 2: 02:18 The first waves of mom Guatemalans began arriving in Oakland in the 1980s during that country's civil war. Today, mom are leaving with Amala because of gang violence and crushing poverty. In some ways, they're finding Oakland more accepting of their indigenous culture than their home country says, mom, teacher Henry. Sally's. Now that I'm here, I understand my rights and I understand like who we are and now I feel proud and I will teach anyone who would like to learn to live, which yes, it's not easy for mom speakers new to the city. It's expensive. Families crammed together in small apartments. It can be hard to navigate if you speak English or Spanish, but Silas thinks he and this class can help change that. I love it. I love connecting communities. At the end of class, [inaudible] writes down the phrase for any questions, one word has four consonants together at them, but then after practice they get it in Oakland and Friday that Java Romero.

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A handful of adults at an Oakland community college practiced how to say “good afternoon” in Mam, a Mayan language spoken in the western highlands of Guatemala.
KPBS Midday Edition Segments