This Indigenous Radio Station Is Keeping Immigrants From Mexico & Central America Informed
In the 2010 census, more than 685 thousand Latinxs in the US identified themselves as American Indian, a number that experts believe could actually be much higher. With Latin media predominantly in Spanish and English, this population has long lacked much-needed news and culture in their language. Enter Radio Indígena, a radio station hoping to serve indigenous communities from Mexico and Central America.
The radio station is one of the first to cater to indigenous Mexicans in the United States. Every week, it boasts 40 hours of original programming, from newscasts to educational talk shows to music. While content is primarily in Mixeco, there are also programs in Zapoteco, Triqui, Nahuatl, Spanish and more.
Radio Indígena is hosted and run by the Mixteco Indígena Community Organizing Project (MICOP), a nonprofit organization providing health outreach, humanitarian support and language interpretation to indigenous communities in California.
“There are very few ways for us to receive information in our own language,” Arcenio Lopez, executive director of MICOP and Radio Indígena, told NBC News.
He and his team started Radio Indígena in 2014. At the time, the community station was only available online. However, after three years of fundraising, the station made it to the FM airwaves in 2017.
In California, where thousands of indigenous migrants from southern Mexico have moved to in search of work after the soil erosion of ancestral farmlands in the Mixteca region, one-third of farm workers speak indigenous languages. Many of them don’t understand English or Spanish. For them, Radio Indígena is a lifeline, keeping them connected to life back home, informed of important immigration news in the US and entertained with music and cultural programs.
“Listening to it is a point of pride,” Josefino Alvarado, a California farm worker who grew up speaking Mixteco before moving to the US in 1997, told the news site. While the man is familiar with Spanish and English, the station helps him preserve his first language while giving him the opportunity to learn other indigenous languages.
According to UNESCO, almost half of Mixteco’s 50 dialects are either severely endangered or at risk of endangerment. Experts believe that migration and economic pressures, including finding paid work, has led to the extinction of indigenous languages in Mexico and Central America as well as when migrants from both regions are in the US.
One of the most popular programs on Radio Indígena is “Al Ritmo De Chilena,” an educational show that shares the history of a new indigenous culture each episode. The program, hosted by Delfina Santiago and Carmen Vasquez, airs every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The women, who work at Ventura County flower farms and as a teacher’s assistant, respectively, do the unpaid show as a labor of love.
For them, researching history, keeping their language alive and connecting listeners to their roots offer them the most value. They say it’s empowering and instills much-needed pride in a community that has long been taught to feel ashamed of their language, culture and experiences.
“We’ve kept our languages hidden out of fear,” Santiago said, “but no longer.”