Mayan Radio

Andre Cramblit andrekar at NCIDC.ORG
Fri Jun 17 17:19:42 UTC 2005

Radio shows bridge Guatemalan languages

By Tania Valdemoro
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

WEST PALM BEACH — Melodies first heard more than 1,500 years ago filled
a broadcast studio Sunday morning when Herlinda Francisco changed
compact discs.

A caller from Jupiter had just requested a "marimba autoctona" song. The
genre is one of Guatemala's oldest forms of music, dating back to
pre-Columbian times. Its steady marimba is usually played at village
dances, Francisco said.

Between sets of marimba and cumbia music, Mayan activists on WPSP-1190
AM discussed farmworker rights, local job opportunities and locations
for sending cash remittances to Guatemala in Mam, Q'anjob'al and Quiche
— indigenous Guatemalan languages rarely heard across the Florida

The two-hour weekly program is one of three radio shows in the state
broadcasting music and discussion about the culture and experiences of
Guatemalan immigrants in America.

Through its partnership with Sterio Nebaj in Guatemala, the West Palm
Beach-based show reaches an audience of 15,000 to 20,000 listeners in
Guatemala and Florida, Francisco said. The show's broadcast extends
locally from Martin to Broward counties.

In the western part of the state, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers
broadcasts a two-hour show in Mam and Q'anjob'al on Saturday and Sunday
afternoons on WCTI-107.9 FM, known as Radio Conciencia. The shows are
limited to the Immokalee area and reach about 5,000 people, said
Rolando Sales, who hosts his show in Mam.

There are 372,487 Guatemalans in the United States, according to the
2000 U.S. Census. Of the 28,650 Guatemalans in Florida, 6,576 live in
Palm Beach County.

The radio programs aim to preserve Mayan language and culture primarily
by speaking in various dialects and playing native music, Francisco

"We are not Hispanic," said Miguel Angel Chiquin-Yat, who founded the
show in 1998 with Francisco and three others from the Lake Worth-based
Organization of Maya People in Exile. "We speak Spanish, but we are

With 22 indigenous languages spoken in Guatemala, communicating to a
wide audience can be a tall order. Out of necessity, Chiquin-Yat and
Sales introduce songs and music segments in Spanish. The majority of
Guatemalans, however, speak one or more Mayan languages; several do not
speak Spanish at all, Chiquin-Yat said.

Since February, the two groups have teamed up to broadcast a Mayan radio
show every month, Sales said. He came to West Palm Beach from Immokalee
Sunday to host the morning radio show with Chiquin-Yat.

As a result, listeners in Palm Beach, Martin and Broward counties learn
more about Guatemalans living in Immokalee, and vice versa. Sales and
fellow farmworker Roberto Mendez spent several minutes after every
music set discussing the Coalition of Immokalee Workers' mission to
lobby for higher wages and promote farmworker rights.

Among labor groups, the coalition is well-known for its three-year
boycott of Taco Bell, which ended in March when the company agreed to
pay a penny-a-pound increase to farmworkers picking tomatoes.

The weekly Mayan language shows have proven to be a hit, radio hosts
said. Many listeners send CDs of marimba and cumbia music to the radio
stations, thereby boosting the shows' music selections and keeping them
up to date with the latest songs.

Sales said locals have tuned in to his show because they know they can
hear marimba for an hour. Unlike the West Palm Beach show, the
Immokalee shows devote their second hour of programming to translating
discussions from Spanish to Mam and Q'anjob'al and vice versa.

Still, radio hosts said they must work diligently to attract and retain
listeners. The target audience for all three shows are people who
already listen to a myriad of Spanish-language stations. Radio
Conciencia and WPSP both play Latin-American music. The key to engaging
listeners is to provide them with relevant information and use the radio
to help them solve problems, said Lucas Benitez, the coalition's
executive director.

Radio Conciencia is obligated to serve the needs of its local community
in exchange for its broadcast license, which the Federal Communications
Commission granted two years ago after a lengthy application process.
The station is one of Florida's 106 low-power FM stations.

In 2000, the FCC began granting broadcast licenses to community-based
groups that serve low-income communities. There are 600 low-power FM
stations nationwide. Federal lawmakers are considering whether to
expand the program further.

Chiquin-Yat said his group is researching ways to get its own radio
station like their Immokalee brothers. The group pays $15,000 a year to
use WPSP's facilities, he said.

In what is expected to be an active hurricane season, both groups said
they would use the airwaves to make sure farmworkers and others are
prepared for the storms.

"Many people were spooked by the hurricanes," said Benitez, referring to
the majority of farmworkers who return in September to pick tomatoes and
oranges for several weeks. Their return coincides with the time when
hurricanes often increase in size and strength.

This year, Benitez will broadcast hurricane information in Mam,
Q'anjob'al and two Mexican dialects, Zapotec and Mixtec, as well as in
Creole. Chiquin-Yat also plans to provide farmworkers in Palm Beach and
Martin counties with hurricane news.

But Sunday's show made no mention of the hurricanes despite the passing
of Tropical Storm Arlene Saturday over Florida's Gulf Coast. Thousands
of Mayans in Lake Worth lost power and safe drinking water last year
after Hurricane Frances struck.

The radio programs have become indispensable, Mayan activists said,
because they enable Guatemalan immigrant communities to survive
economically and culturally.

"We are proud to be able to speak in our own languages and reach a mass
audience," Benitez said. "It helps farmworkers learn the laws of the
United States and their responsibilities as residents here."

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Sung to the Tune of Mexican Radio by Wall Of Voodoo

I feel a cool breeze on my shoulder
Off the river at the reservation border
I have my walkman and check the station
I listen for Tribal News of the Native nations
I hear the talking of the DJ
Is it Hopi, Maybe Hoopa, perhaps Lakota
Sometimes even Bellagana (sp?)
Can't understand just what does he say?

I'm on an Indian radio
I'm on an Indian radio

I dial it in and tune the station
They talk about Council business, and commodity allocations
There is a tourney on the next Rez
Guess its time for a road trip journey

I'm on an Indian radio
I'm on an Indian radio

I wish I was in Albuquerque
Dancing at the Midnight Rodeo
I call my request in on the phone
Can’t We hear “One Eyed Ford”
I want to taste some food from home
Maybe Salmon, even deer meat,
Mutton stew just doesn’t cut it
There is the guy, with no teeth
That I met at the 49er
Can't understand just what does he say?

I'm on an Indian radio
I'm on an Indian radio

Radio  radio...

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