As a Chilean, when I travel to Latin America to cover a story, I usually understand what my interviewees are telling me. I am able to pick up on the finer points and ask follow up questions that get me nearer to the story. But this time round, I didn’t understand a word, because my interviewees were speaking in Quechua – one of the main indigenous languages in Peru.
I was speaking to Clodomiro Landeo and Marisol Mesa, presenters of the news show ‘Nuqanchik’, which means “us” in the Quechua language. ‘Nuqanchik’ has been broadcasting in Quechua for the past year. The show is part of a drive on Peru’s public TV channel to counter the racist consequences of colonial representational power.
When it comes to representation on the public stage, Peru’s indigenous populations are, at best, fetished, commodified, orientalised. At worst, they are spoken about, spoken for, spoken at – even laughed at. But there are signs that this could be changing, albeit at a snail’s pace.
This week, a comedy show called ‘La Paisana Jacinta’ (Jacinta, the Peasant), which had been ridiculing indigenous women for years, was taken off air and off line, after a judge ruled in favour of a group of indigenous women from Cuzco who had accused the show of violating their human rights.
The ruling was welcomed by indigenous groups around Peru. However, there is a long way to go when it comes to achieving political and economic equality in historically meaningful ways. Ever since the arrival of the Spanish five centuries ago, the Peruvian state has been oligarchical and racist. The tension between Western and Indigenous culture exists at the heart of the country to this day.
When Nuqanchik goes to air at 5:30am every morning, it does more than just broadcast in a different language – the intention is to reflect a different reality, a perspective that isn’t mainstream in Peru.
“Just because the programme is in Quechua, it doesn’t mean we are going to just see folk music and dance. These are important and valuable aspects of that culture, but its fundamental purpose is to address people’s needs,” says media anthropologist, Raul Castro.
The question is whether newscasts will have political impact? What will they change for the millions of indigenous people? Beyond exulting the indigenous rights to education, information, culture – will this kind of public broadcasting create a truly democratic space in which to rectify the material premises of their oppression?
To echo Peru’s most famous journalist, Jose Carlos Maritegui, who was writing about Peruvian class structure and the oppression of the Quechua-speaking Indian in the 1920’s: “We are not satisfied to assert the Indian’s right to education, culture, progress, love, and heaven. We begin by categorically asserting his right to land.”
Clodomiro Landeo, TV presenter, Nuqanchik
Marisol Mesa, TV presenter, Nuqanchik
Hugo Coya, director, TV Peru
Raul Castro, media anthropologist
Patricia del Rio, host, Radio Television Peru
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