Pergentino José Ruiz Writes Fiction Primarily in the Zapotec Indigenous Language

If we write literature in indigenous languages, we create a dialogue between Mexico’s oral and written traditions.
— Pergentino José Ruiz
 Pergentino José Ruiz. Image courtesy of

Pergentino José Ruiz. Image courtesy of

Zapotec author Pergentino José Ruiz wrote a short op-ed on the English Pen website over a year ago on preserving Meso-American indigenous culture through fiction writing in the indigenous languages of Central America. He writes in Zapotec which is then translated into Spanish for a wider readership. Yet his devotion to writing in his indigenous language guides his creativity:

In my case, I speak and write fiction in Zapotec, and to give you an idea of how that language is structured I will use the example of the many metaphors in our everyday speech that are based on the word heart. There is the greeting ‘Nza nzo laxoa?‘ (‘How is your heart?’, which corresponds to ‘How are you?’). There are ways of describing moods: ‘nabil nzo laxond‘ (‘my heart is sad’), and ‘nalee nzo laxond‘ (‘my heart is happy’). There are also expressions that go deeper, such as ‘Na kap nak la, na nzod rend laxoa‘ (‘You feel nothing, there is no blood in your heart’). If we write literature in indigenous languages, we create a dialogue between Mexico’s oral and written traditions.

I stumbled across this article while trying to find out more about Laia Jufresa’s new novel Umami (IndieBound), and I found more books to add to an already impossible reading list. Not only does Pergentino offer two books on Meso-American culture and the poetic tradition of Central America’s indigenous (Fifteen Poets of the Aztec World and History of Nahuatl Literature), but we also find out about the works that Pergentino has written himself in Zapotec (Y Supe Que Responder, Hormigas Rojas/Red Ants, and Lenguaje de Pájaros). I'm not sure if any of Pergentino’s works have been translated into English, but those who know Spanish—or Zapotec—could enjoy them.

What other books today are written first in indigenous languages? Does anything like this happen with North American literature? I’m sure we can find out if anyone is doing it, but I’m not sure it is happening outside of oral storytelling from older generations. To do so would imply that we as indigenous peoples have a good grasp on our languages, but I know that isn't the case for myself or much of my family. Some indigenous nations have better fluency in their language than others, but are any writing in that language?

While reading more about Pergentino, I found that he is speaking with Gerald Taiaiake Alfred at the Rosalío Solano Cinema Theatre in Querétaro, Mexico, as part of the Querétaro Hay Festival tonight, September 2nd, 2016. For those interested and in the area (anyone?), the event goes from 11-12 and tickets are $30MX.