Across our travels in Latin America, we came across a wonderful word and practice, interculturalidad (the process of being intercultural). The term is common in Latin America amongst those engaged in educational initiatives that try to include, or bring together, different cultural knowledges and ways of living.
Currently, attempts to integrate interculturidad learning involves combining two very different cultural worldviews – most often those originating in Europe and found in “settler” or so-called ‘modern’ societies and those that originate in diverse, particularly indigenous cultures across the Americas. I can only begin to imagine what it might be like to have to learn and master two dramatically different languages, ways of seeing and being in the world, sets of values and forms of conduct.
- Quechua intercultural school in Merillo village, outside of Lamas, Peru
The closest to interculturidad learning I have personally experienced was being raised in Rio de Janeiro and learning the local Carioca (locality of Rio) language and ways of being and then moving to the UK at a young age where I had to pick up the various nuances of the British English language and behaviour, the values and etiquette, humour and cultural references. Aside from the language, it was not such a great leap, other than some significant differences around emotional expression and interpersonal relations, but still…
I have gained a kind of competence in these two places, Rio and the UK, navigating through day-to-day life in each place in the way a local might. But these ways of knowing, being, relating, at least within the circles I was raised, are not so very different in their underpinning cosmovision, their fundamental way of seeing and being in the world. This is not such a leap of interculturidad as say between Blackfoot and North European culture that settled and colonized North America, or Quechua and South European culture that settled and colonized South America.
Amongst our journey we have been lucky to have met individuals who are masters of considerably distinct cultures. People who have been living amidst this European-derived settler/colonizing culture and who have also deeply studied these ways of knowing and being in the world, often at a university level. At the same time they have not been completely seduced by this way of seeing/being in the world and have also a deep knowledge and identification with the ways of their indigenous ancestors. These individuals live their lives in this in-between space of interculturidad and many are also deeply committed to teaching others how to inhabit this space.
Encountering mastery of two distinct cultures during our journey
We saw the mastery of two distinct cultures in the re-emergence of Blackfoot Ways of Knowing at Red Crow Community College in Alberta, Canada, with Ryan Heavyhead, Duane Mistaken Chief, Narcisse Blood, Alvine Mountainhorse, Ramona Bighead and Cynthia Chambers. In the field of art we experienced the mastery of two worlds at the Freda Diesing School of Art in Northern British Columbia with Dempsey Bob and other First Nations teachers such as Stan Bevan, Ken McNeil and Dean Heron. We witnessed this in the comunalidad work of Zapotec anthropologist and activist Jaime Luna in the hills surrounding the city of Oaxaca in Mexico.
In Peru doing inspiring and courageous work in this sphere of interculturidad were all of those we met as part of the Pratec network (in Lima, Lamas and Cusco although there are many other Pratec organisations in other parts of the country).
Elena Pardo has not only mastered two cultures, she has developed interculturidad education that has influenced all of Pratec. Elena had worked for many years in the Ministry of Education before leaving and founding her own organisation CEPROSI (the Centro de Promocion y Salud Integral), part of the PRATEC (Projecto Andino Tecnologias Campesinas) network, which is active in the promotion and support of Quechua cultural knowledge and practices in agriculture, schools and in the field of health. Her work focuses especially on the food, ceremony and spirituality of the Quechua peoples in and around Cuzco, trying to integrate these fully into schools beyond the mere tokenistic approach that is most often taken.
Experiences of interculturidad education with Pratec
Pratec generally aims to support and strengthen genuine interculturidad and we learned much about this when speaking with Grimaldo in Lima and then spending nearly a week in Lamas, at Waman Wasi. During the days we spent visiting the work of Waman Wasi, in the upper Amazon region of Lamas, we visited different villages and schools, and school trips, accompanied by either Leonardo or Gregorio who had been working at Waman Wasi for a number of years. One day we went to a Quechua Lama village a few kilometres away from Lamas to visit a school Wama Wasi had been working with. We were met there by a lively non-Quechua Lama teacher who was engaging and well-liked by the students.
It was just before Christmas and the students, ranging in age between 10 – 12 had been making Christmas trees from paper and branches when we arrived.
This teacher had been working with Waman Wasi for some time and was open to incorporating the videos they produced on local knowledge and cultural practices into his own teaching. We observed the class watching a video Waman Wasi made with another group of children on fishing and river pollution at another Quechua Lama village. The activity of watching the video, which the school-children had to write about later, was part of the days’ curriculum which was all about the environment.
Though the days’ teaching activities went well and the students seem to have enjoyed it we were both surprised to hear that the teacher, like many others in this region, did not speak Quechua Lama even though he had been teaching in the same village for many years. Thinking back to the school trip to El Monte, to our conversations with Leonardo, Gregorio and Elena Pardo in Cusco, we saw how important it was to have teachers that are committed to interculturidad education. Committed to being, learning and teaching between cultures.