I’m a proud first-year student in the Masters in Latin American and Caribbean Studies program, and I’ve been a part of ROC (Runasimi Outreach Committee) since I began the program. Every month, we host an event called a Quechua Night. Sometimes they are 20-people events in an NYU venue, and sometimes, as in the Queens Museum on the 30th of March, they are gigantic events. It was a grey and rainy Sunday, yet around two hundred people of all ages and origins showed up, ready to celebrate Quechua, Kichwa, indigeneity, and learning new things in a myriad of ways.
After Michael Abbott, our current president, began to address the crowd warmly and confidently in Quechua, much of the event became a blur to me, since I became intensely focused on teaching people how to embroider pre-Columbian iconographies onto wired ribbon bracelets. You see, textiles and handicrafts are one of my passions, and in ROC I’m able to share and impart this part of my life with others. There were many workshops that attendants could participate in: recording a podcast in Quechua with Christie Mladic-Janney, painting with Elva Navarro from New York Quechua Initiative, learning some Andean dance-moves, and more. Even after the workshops were officially over, people kept coming, eager to learn how to make a bracelet. A woman named Rosa simply wanted to embroider her name on a bracelet. At the end, she asked me if she could take some materials home to teach her sisters-in-law how to do it too. “Llévate no má,” I said, happy that the workshop was going to spread even beyond the borders of the event! And that’s really what it all felt like, the breaking of barriers and borders, and a raucous dance party to end it all.
On Saturday, April 12th, ROC, in partnership with cultural organization Abya Yala, hosted a Quechua Night in Paterson, New Jersey. It happened at the Paterson Museum, and there must have been over one hundred people who came. Like in the Queens Museum, there were incredibly creative workshops taking place. People did various things, from making ocarinas, Andean ceramic flutes, to making beautiful birds out of Styrofoam parts, to learning to sing a song in Spanish and Quechua. Since part of our mission as a group is to promote Quechua, there was one member of ROC assigned to every workshop, and teaching all participants phrases and vocabulary to do with the activity.
Patricia, a vibrant member of Abya Yala, was teaching the ocarinas workshop, and I was her language Quechua assistant. She would demonstrate how to add the mouthpiece to the ocarina: you beat this little bit of clay on the table, one side at a time, until you get a rectangle, then you make some criss-crosses on one side, and the on the side of the larger body that you’ve already hollowed out and put back together, wet one side slightly, and then, firmly but lightly join both together. It was in between these kernels of ceramic wisdom that I would say to the participants “Now we’re going to learn how to say ‘I am working with clay’ in Quechua.’ It goes like this: ‘Noqa llank’ashani t’uruwan.’ ”
Yet being vocab helpers was not the only thing that ROC did as a group in this most vibrant event. We had also choreographed a little dance for a portion of one of the most famous Andean ‘pop’ songs out there: Ananau, by Alborada. It was with this hilarious cross between a 90s boy-band and a popular Andean song that we opened up the ‘open-mike’ session. After us, Abya Yala performed some gorgeous songs in Spanish and Quechua, playing various instruments and delighting the crowd with their solid beats.
Posted by Constanza Smita Ontaneda Rehman-Khedker – MA Candidate at CLACS