By Cristian Vásquez Arellanes
When people ask me, “Hey, where are you from?” I never respond that “I’m Mexican.”
I tell them “I’m Oaxacan.”
For me, the state of Oaxaca has qualities that make it unique and pure. For me it is the state with family roots. It’s home.
I don’t have many memories of my childhood and I was a boy when I came to this country from Oaxaca. I barely even spoke Spanish and of course not English.
The only thing that remained tattooed in my heart and mind were the photos of my family and of my indigenous language, Zapoteco.
Oaxaca is home to 16 indigenous languages and the most spoken are Zapoteco, Mixteco and Nahuatl. Across the state, there are even differences within Zapoteco.
My hometown is a village called San Pablo Güila. It’s a small and poor village in the Valley of Tlacolula de Matamoros. In San Pablo Güila, very little Spanish is spoken and the main language of the village is Zapoteco. All my family grew up speaking this language; it was our way of life.
My mother tells me my first words were in Zapoteco. They were simple words like nis (agua/water), naa (yo/I), bdzalu (ojo/eye), o bduaa (platano/banana).
In my village, three are some words that are similar to Spanish, such as o ma or pa. Other words in our region sound and are written similarly to Spanish like mez (meza/table), micrond (micronda/microwave), y camion (carro/car).
In some villages, they speak Zapoteco faster than in other villages. Certain words and phrases also are different.
In my uncle’s village to ask someone to eat you say, Laguidxiña gooto’ (acerquense a comer o quieren comer). In my village we say, Azau get.
All the years I have lived in the U.S. I have forgotten much of the language I knew as a child. My mom still speaks to me in Zapoteco so I won’t completely forget. I also spoke countless times on the telephone with my grandparents and other relatives on the phone in Zapoteco.
Today, my grandparents are still amused that I speak English and Spanish better than my native language.
Cristian Vásquez Arellanes is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach. He studied journalism and was the podcast producer for DÍG en Español. He produced this podcast Eres Hermosa Oaxaca Querida.