The Quechua Alliance: Promoting and Celebrating Quechua and Andean Culture in the United States

By Ana Lucía Tello

Attendees of the fourth annual Quechua Alliance Meeting. (Photo courtesy of Quechua at Penn).

Spoken by 8-10 million people in the Andes, Quechua is the most widely spoken indigenous language in the Americas, yet it is still considered endangered. As scholars Kendall King and Nancy Hornberger argue, “data from a range of sources indicate that a contraction of Quechua domains and a gradual cessation of intergenerational transmission of the language are well underway”.[1] According to Marcial Mamani, a native Quechua speaker from Coporaque, Peru, his children refuse to learn the indigenous language to avoid being bullied at school. Even though in Marcial’s hometown, older generations keep their native language alive, children speak mostly Spanish, since it is considered more prestigious.[2]

Aiming to promote and celebrate Quechua and Andean culture in the United States, the Quechua Alliance organizes an annual event with cultural activities, workshops, presentations, and discussions. The one-day gathering is open not only to the academic community, but to all Quechua language enthusiasts. Thanks to the Indigenous Languages of Latin America (ILLA) Travel Fund from the Center for Latin American Studies at UC Berkeley, I attended the 2018 Quechua Alliance Meeting, held at the University of Pennsylvania on November 17th, 2018. Being my first time at the event, I was thrilled by the overwhelming response to it: attendees included entire families, community leaders, college students, and professors from all over the country. Representing the Bay Area, there was the academic community from UC Berkeley, Stanford University and Saint Mary’s College of California.    

Lis Arevalo and Florencia Orlandoni’s workshop on Quechua testimonio. (Photo by Ana Tello).

The 2018 Quechua Alliance Meeting opened with the q’oa, that is, a ceremony honoring the Pachamama or Mother Earth. In Quechua and Andean culture, it is a tradition to perform a ritual offering and request of the Pachamama the first Friday of every month and on special occasions. It is considered an act of reciprocity with Mother Earth. The q’oa was followed by a series of workshops and presentations, which took place at three separate rooms.

First, I attended Emily Thompson’s presentation on her English-Quechua-Spanish dictionary, which she worked on for over six years with Odi Gonzales and Christine Mladic Janney. Thompson, who currently works at UC Berkeley CLAS, discussed the challenges of providing English and Spanish equivalents to complex Quechua concepts such as pacha. Then, I listened to Jermani Ojeda’s presentation on short radio programs in Quechua. Through podcasts, Ojeda shares stories of the lives of Andean communities, and celebrates a medium -the radio- that has played a fundamental role in communities where writing is secondary. Finally, I participated in Lis Arévalo and Florencia Orlandoni’s workshop on Quechua testimonio. They displayed excerpts from Gregorio Condori Mamani’s autobiography as well as discussion questions, and participants reacted to the experiences with messages and drawings.

After these sessions, attendees enjoyed lunch while listening to the music of hip hop artist Liberato Kani. Through his music, Liberato Kani celebrates Quechua language and culture, and protests against the long history of exclusion and violence against indigenous populations across the Americas. Afternoon activities included a homage to Elva Ambía, founder of the Quechua Collective of New York, and a panel with special guest Mirian Masaquiza, UN official of the Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Mirian Masaquiza, UN official of the Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues speaks at the Quechua Alliance Meeting. (Photo courtesy of Quechua at Penn).

Participating in the 2018 Quechua Alliance Meeting motivated me to continue my studies of the language and helped me to find new resources. Even though I have been very fortunate to receive grants that have allowed me to make progress with the language, practicing it during the academic year has been challenging due to the limited resources on campus. However, attending the event gave me the opportunity to connect with people interested in both Quechua language and Andean culture, and to learn from their experiences. Finally, being a graduate student with teaching responsibilities, the 2018 Quechua Alliance Meeting introduced me to new methods and pedagogies in language teaching.

A story on the 2018 Quechua Alliance Meeting was included in Ñuqanchik, the first news show in Quechua broadcasted in Peruvian television.

[1] King, Kendall A, and Nancy H. Hornberger. “Introduction. Why a special issue about Quechua?” International Journal of the Sociology of Language, no. 167, 2004, pp. 1-8.
[2] “El quechua muere de vergüenza”. El Comercio, 6 November 2010, Accessed 15 May 2012.


ANA LUCIA TELLO is a PhD student in the department of Spanish and Portuguese at UC Berkeley. Ana Lucía holds an MA in Spanish from the University of Virginia and a BA in Hispanic Literature from the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú. Her main research interests include
capitalism, labor, and resistance in indigenous communities, and memory and performance, especially in the Andean region.






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