This profile was prepared when María Anzures was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1992.
The New Idea
Mexico has 56 indigenous cultures, including what Maria calls "the mother of Mexican culture," Nahuatl. Spoken by four million Nahuatl Indians in 28 of Mexico's 30 states, Nahuatl has a rich history that includes some of the earliest writings on botany, medicine, architecture, astronomy, and more. Ignored, however, by centuries of European-dominated intellectual and political leadership, Nahuatl struggles to remain relevant to Mexican culture and a source of identity to the long-discriminated-against Indians. Maria is encouraging Nahuatl's resurgence by supporting scholarship and dissemination by the Nahuatls themselves.To do this, Maria has founded the National Council of the Nahuatl Culture and has made two important distinctions between it and other places where Nahuatl is taught. First, her center is primarily for Nahuatl Indians, for people who, as Maria says, "exercise our cultural and religious rituals," and not just for "sympathizers or followers." Second, her linguistic teaching is based on the strict tradition of the high Mexican civilization of Tenochtitlan, not the regional Nahuatl dialects that most institutions offer, which vary widely among the regions and lack grammatical structure. This training will allow her Nahuatl students to translate documents of their ancestors. For Maria, this is preferable to translations done by "researchers foreign to our idiosyncracies, who not having our oral tradition, nor the key to our philosophy, alter the contents of our documents and monuments."The training over the next three years will provide the groundwork and prepare a faculty for what she hopes will become the Indigenous University of Mexico, which will offer an integral education in sciences, art, linguistics, and Nahuatl philosophy. Maria feels this is an important step in offering Indians an education appropriate to their heritage, and hopes it will lead to introducing indigenous language in the national school system. Maria says these steps are "necessary if our country wants to be democratic and just with all its inhabitants, respecting its rich and integrated ethnic and cultural plurality."