This past weekend I had the opportunity to volunteer with the Guatemalan Mobile Consulate. From what I was told before I volunteered, this was the first time that they’ve come to the Champaign-Urbana area. In addition, Champaign-Urbana has a large Guatemalan population – so their services were quite needed.
While they were in town they issued passports and identification cards to the Guatemalan community. This event was held at the Wesley Foundation on Green and Goodwin. While there I mostly did child-care (coloring and playing games with the kids of the people who came).
I had an amazing time working with the kids! Initially I found it to be quite easy to communicate in Spanish. I was able to think of all of the words and phrases that I wanted to use and was able to converse quite rapidly with the people in the community. However, in many cases my Spanish was not needed and was occasionally useless. I specifically remembered talking to one young girl in Spanish when she replied (in English) “I don’t speak Spanish.” I didn’t really know what else to say until another young boy interjected and explained to me that they spoke a Guatemalan language. My years of studying Latin American EVERYTHING all came together in an instance. I remembered learning about Guatemala and how although Spanish is the official language, 40% of the population speaks one of the many indigenous languages. This fact was really important for me to realize. I usually assume that if I’m working with someone from Latin America, I can just speak Spanish with them. I usually don’t remember that there are other languages spoken in Latin America. It also made me wonder how many times I’ve spoken Spanish in the community and how many of the people have actually understood me (as they may have actually spoken another language).
This encounter has encouraged me to do more research on the indigenous populations in Latin America. I look forward to learning more about them!