Earlier this month, senators unveiled a bilingual version of the Mexican constitution, which for the first time presents the important document in Mayan. According to the National Institute for Indigenous Languages, the constitution has now been translated into 31 of the 68 principal indigenous languages spoken in Mexico.
The Mayan translation project was spearheaded by Senator Graciela Saldaña, a biologist who represents Quintana Roo, a state that is densely populated by Maya.
Speaking before the Senate, Senator Saldaña called the translation and distribution of the constitution into indigenous languages a “judicial, cultural, and political obligation.” Saldaña underscored the importance of continued translation work, saying that it is important for all Mexican citizens to be aware of their rights, particularly given constitutional changes that have occurred in recent years.
According to the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous People, more than one million people living in Mexico speak only their native language–not Spanish–and of these, nearly 800,000 are women. Reaching all Mexicans in their mother tongues, the Commission affirmed, is a massive undertaking, but one that is necessary.
Senator Saldaña will present the Mayan version of the constitution to the public for which it is intended during a ceremony in Quintana Roo on Saturday, August 22.
High illiteracy rates…
The celebration over the translation might be tempered, however, by the fact that illiteracy rates among indigenous people in Mexico remain high. In a 2012 article they authored for the Revista Internacional de Estadística y Geografía (International Magazine of Statistics and Geography), researchers José Narro Robles and David Moctezuma Navarro indicated that more than 5.4 million Mexicans over the age of 15 are illiterate. The majority, the authors noted, are indigenous, and the overall number is probably considerably lower than the actual illiteracy rate.
If the goal of a translated constitution is to make the document accessible to all Mexicans and to inform them of their rights and responsibilities as citizens, translation alone can’t achieve that objective.
Though they were writing prior to the translation and publication of the constitution into Mayan, Narro’s and Moctezuma’s recommendations remain relevant. “We need a grand initiative to teach reading and writing to those millions of Mexicans who live excluded, practically in the past,” they wrote. That is a project that’s far more challenging than translating the constitution.