“The system assumes that everybody south of the border speaks Spanish,” said Rivera-Salgado. “Indigenous languages are not recognized as official languages in California. They are what we call ‘exotic languages.’ So even state agencies, the court system or the educational system, do not have the information about the 68 Indigenous languages that are spoken in Mexico.”
To fill these gaps, organizations such as CIELO in Los Angeles assist Indigenous residents with translation in hospital, court, law enforcement and other public-serving settings.
Recently, CIELO partnered with other UCLA units to release an Indigenous diaspora mapping project, so working with LOSH built upon this university-community connection.
“The skills and trust that CIELO has built within the Indigenous language-speaking communities of Southern California made them a natural partner for our COVID-19 education efforts, so we connected with their staff and organizers as our project unfolded,” said Riley.
Together, the organizations identified the most commonly spoken Indigenous languages in the industries hit hardest by COVID-19: Maya K’iche (Nahuala Guatemala), Maya Mam (Western Highlands Guatemala and south-western Mexico), Maya Q’anjob’al (Huehuetenango, Guatemala), Mixteco (San Juan Mixtepec, Mexico) and Zapotec (Villa Hidalgo Yalalag, Mexico).
LOSH developed the content, including several messages around COVID-19 safety and workers’ rights in California, then wrote short scripts in English and Spanish. CIELO staff and partners then translated the scripts into each target Indigenous language and audio-recorded the translations.