There’s no dearth of culture and language in Southern California. The Census Bureau rates the 40 most common languages spoken by Americans — and 39 of them are spoken in L.A.
At a church in Santa Ana, you’ll hear sounds that have resonated for thousands of years. Each Saturday morning, people gather to speak and learn the ancient language of the Aztecs: Nahuatl.
Five centuries after the Aztec culture was crushed by Spanish conquistadors, the language survives, still spoken by an estimated 1.5 million people, mostly in central Mexico.
A Man on a Mission
For about 26 years, David Vazquez has been teaching the ancient language and culture of the Aztecs.
“One class usually goes over history, customs and traditions and words the students aren’t familiar with,” said Vazquez. “The goal is to continue, with our students, to try to rescue our official language.”
The classroom at Messiah Episcopal Church in Santa Ana holds about 30 students. Among the students was Vazquez’s own granddaughter, Citlali Jimenez.
“Learning this language that my grandfather teaches is important to me,” Jimenez said, “because seeing him teaching other people … it’s inspiring that other people are trying to learn this language, too.”
Also attending was Jose Vega, who cited his reason for attending class as an interest in tracing his roots.
“I’ve been coming to these classes close to four months now. I just had to get a better understanding of what the past was. Now we’re living, and we don’t know who we are or where we come from. Some of us don’t bother to look back and see who our people used to be or the way they used to live,” he said.
Ulises de Los Cobos grew up in San Diego and had heard of David’s work from 200 miles away, “I had heard his slogan ‘Mexica Tiahui.’ Mexica, which is also known as the Aztecs, and Tiahui, means forward, so Mexica Tiahui is Mexica forward. To me, it means we are moving forward. It’s the next step.”
Inspiring students to get in touch with their roots and also creating new Nahuatl teachers is David’s main goal. He keeps his classroom doors open to all.
“We welcome anyone as long as they feel the love, care and respect to learn this language. Our purpose is to be inclusive. Whoever speaks English, Spanish or just wants to improve their Nahuatl, we’re all happy to support them. That way we can have new teachers.”