Friday, 24 April 2009

Peru: Can Your Congresswoman Spell?

Update: Supa has announced that in future, she will speak solely in Quechua in Congress. This is not because she is embarrassed about her Spanish or anything like that, but she is exercising her right to speak in an official language of her native country. Good on her - I hope the Congress is properly equipped with interpreters.

This may seem a little off-topic, but I was struck by yesterday's front page in the Lima edition of Correo, and I wasn't the only one (see utero de marita and gran combo club).

It is mocking a Peruvian Congresswoman, Hilaria Supa, for her apparently shaky grasp of Spanish spelling. Supe is an indigenous representative of the Cusco region and her first language is Quechua. She was also the first politician to take her oath in Quechua, and that proved controversial too. I can't imagine why - no, wait, let me rephrase that: I can imagine why. It was controversial because Quechua is the language of indigenous peasants and has no place in a place of government or learning, right? As for the illiterate, they should just be grateful they are allowed to vote at all (which they have only been allowed to do since 1979). Therefore, taking an oath in an official language of parts of your country, far from being a completely normal thing to do, becames a highly politicised act.

Judging by the picture, Supa was making notes rather than producing a document for external consumption. I'm thankful that people don't sneak up on me and photograph my private jottings, but I guess when you're indigenous and in Congress you can never stop having to prove yourself. The Correo article also suggested that there should be "extra" requirements to hold a position in Congress, such as "university-level" education. What a good way that would be of making the majority of indigenous activists conveniently ineligible for higher office! Are politicians not supposed to represent the people? Have we issued a spelling test to all congressmen and women or do we just go for those in indigenous headware? This is a clear expression of racism against someone who speaks a language which is an official language of Peru (in areas where it is predominantly spoken, which include the area which the Congresswoman represents, Cuzco) and which was around there long before Spanish was. It stinks of many centuries of regarding indigenous people as stupid and unable to participate in civic society, and should be regard with contempt.

See news reports here and here.

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