The ancient language of the Aztecs is called Nahuatl, and English has borrowed more than a few words from it, including avocado and coyote. The indigenous language's cultural impact is one of the many reasons Mardonio Carballo speaking in Nahuatl. That, and the pre-Colombian language endures.
There are an estimated 13 million speakers of indigenous languages currently in Mexico. Carballo Mexico’s foremost living, indigenous poet. He was in Los Angeles several weeks ago to promote the USC art exhibit, "Montar La Bestia," which included art and writing inspired by immigrants’ dangerous journey north on the freight train through Mexico known as "La Bestia."
KPCC’s Adolfo Guzman-Lopez chatted with John Rabe about a recent interview with Carballo.
Carballo has written books of poetry, hosts a show on indigenous issues on Mexican public television and is an ardent indigenous rights advocate, and he embodies the vitality and strength of the Nahuatl language. And he’s a living connection to a pre-Colombian past that’s a part of so many people who live in Southern California.
Even those without that link can appreciate cognate words like "tomato" and "coyote," which derive from Nahuatl. A more creative adaptation of a word is "avocado," which in Nahuatl translates to "testicle."
Aguacatl. The origin of the word is interesting, and has a lot to do with the shape of the fruit. Any guesses? Aguacatl is also the Nahuatl word for testicle.
The fact that these words are still in play is valuable to poet Carballo, who weaves them together in his poetry. He explains that in Nahuatl, that the word for heart, “yolotl,” is also used to describe sadness. While the word for headache is “Tsonkuakualotl.” I have a headache. Lopez tells Rabe these are the combinations of words we uses to express his feelings on Donald Trump’s anti-Mexico rhetoric, the separation of immigrant families in the United States, their fear of deportation, and generally the conflicts around the world are giving him a feeling of ni-yotl-kua-kualotl, the feeling of a very deep heart ache.