Saving A Language Rooted In The Andes With Internet Radio


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Segundo J. Angamarca, half-hidden in a thicket of electronic equipment on a recent Friday evening, put on his headphones and glanced around the room, a makeshift Internet radio station in his apartment in the Bronx.
“We’re all set, no?” he asked in Spanish. He punched a few buttons on a console and, leaning into a live microphone, began speaking in the percussive phonemes of a completely different tongue, one with roots in the Andean highlands of his native Ecuador.
“We’re here!” he announced. “We’re here tonight for you, to help bring happiness, from Radio El Tambo Stereo.”
And so began the inaugural broadcast of “Kichwa Hatari,” perhaps the only radio program in the United States conducted in Kichwa, an Ecuadorean variant of Quechua, an indigenous South American language spoken mainly in Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru.
Despite its humble source, the show’s principle objective is anything but modest: to save a fading language.
Scholars say that Kichwa use is most likely on the decline worldwide, due in part to the increasing use of English and Spanish among native speakers. In the growing Ecuadorean diaspora in the United States, the sustenance of the language, the scholars say, is undermined by the lack of Kichwa classes and other resources as well as by the push among many Ecuadorean immigrants and their children to integrate quickly into the mainstream.
New York City’s Ecuadorean population now numbers more than 137,000, making it one of the city’s fastest-growing immigrant populations. Yet the number of those immigrants and their offspring who speak Kichwa remains unclear.
Charlie S. Uruchima, a master’s student at New York University who was born in the city to Ecuadorean immigrant parents, said the Kichwa-speaking population had been largely invisible, subsumed within the broader Ecuadorean and Latino populations. Census Bureau surveys do not specifically measure Kichwa use.
The weekly show is a collaboration between Mr. Angamarca and his two co-hosts: Mr. Uruchima and Luis Antonio Lema, an Ecuadorean-born language professor and court translator.
Mr. Uruchima met Mr. Lema, a native Kichwa speaker, in March. The Bronx public school that Mr. Lema’s child attends had called N.Y.U. looking for translation help. (Since 2008, the university has offered Quechua classes, helping to promote the language.) The school, in the Parkchester neighborhood, had some 50 Kichwa-speaking families and some of the parents were unable to speak either English or Spanish.
Mr. Lema and Mr. Uruchima then met Mr. Angamarca, also a native Kichwa speaker, whose station normally broadcasts in Spanish to a largely Ecuadorean audience.
Mr. Angamarca proposed the idea for a radio show. The three men envisioned a program that would address the concerns of Kichwa speakers, including the problem of language isolation among those who spoke neither English nor Spanish. More broadly, they hoped the show might help to unify the atomized Kichwa-speaking population in New York and beyond.
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