WWW: Human Rights and Indigenous Language in Iberia (Northern Spain)

Street Signs in Pais VascoContinuing with this month’s theme of human rights and indigenous language, I’d like to turn to an article that came out last month in Aljazeera’s America section, under the topic of Indigenous PeoplesThis opinion article entitled “Capitalism, colonialism and nationalism are language killers” highlights the growth of the world’s largest corporate cooperative: Mondragon. Mondragon is a federative organization where all of its member enterprises are equally responsible in the ownership and management of the organization.  The cooperative is made up of hundreds of enterprises that undertake alternative forms of capitalism, with more respect for human rights. Mondragon today encompasses 74,000 workers, and over $16 Billion in annual revenue.

But why is this featured for today’s article? And why would it be important for a class lesson on Latin American indigenous language?  Mondragon began in the 1950s as movement to revive an endangered indigenous language and culture: Basque.  Today the Basque region (in Spanish called Pais Vasco) is a semi-autonomous state, or an “autonomous community” in northern Spain, comprised of flourishing city centers such as Bilbao, as well as famously gorgeous country sides and a border with France in the east.  The story of Mondragon, named after the Basque town of Mondragón, is important for us not only because it highlights the Iberian peninsula as a place where indigenous language exists in Latin America, but also reveals a narrative in which movements to protect endangered languages are not futile or simply out of fashion or for hobbyists, but rather they are movements that are well-integrated into socioeconomic movements to protect and promote fair trade practices, human rights, and a basic respect for pluralism within nationalistic environments.  Ultimately, it can be debated whether or not one should classify the Euskara language as ‘indigenous’, but either way the debate itself highlights the problematic ways in which labels and conceptions of nationalism convolute our ability to see past ethnicity and socioeconomic class.

Among the member corporations of Mondragon today include companies in Mexico, Brazil and elsewhere in Latin America.  Founded by a young Catholic priest from the town of Mondragón, José María Arizmendiarrieta.  Arizmendriarrieta was deeply concerned with breaking down individualisms within all types of corporate environments, including local consumer co-operatives and even new models of academic organization.  Not only was he way early on the ‘locavore’ movement, he set up a university in 1943, Mondragon University, a democratically administered educational center open to all young people in the region.  Students in this university are trained under the Mendeberri model, which focuses on group work, interdisciplinary curriculum and cultural pluralism as necessary for professional development.

In the spirit of cooperation and group work, it would be great to pair the lesson about Mondragon and the Basque country with a group activity in the Basque language: Euskara. Have the students go to Omniglot’s Euskara webpage, complete with audio files, pronunciation guides and glossaries, to discover this wide world of culture and life they may have never known existed right there between Spain and France.

Have a wonderful weekend!


Image: Multi-lingual street signs in the Basque country that use Euskara, French and Spanish “Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle panneau bilingue 2”. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – User Harrieta171 –  http://goo.gl/g3AVCi

One thought on “WWW: Human Rights and Indigenous Language in Iberia (Northern Spain)

  1. Doing some research about Chiapas, the most southern state in Mexico, i found a few coopeartives there. The most well know is the Coffee Cooperative helping coffee growers and workers to get more income. Another is the Textile Cooperative for women working together. Not only cooperatives help their members to increase their income, it also give them a sense of community. But it’s nice to read your post how cooperatives also help members to preserve their culture.

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