OAKLAND -- In the heart of Oakland's Fruitvale District, a unique community thrives as it works to preserve an ancient Mayan language known as Mam.
This language, native to Guatemala, is finding a new home in the Bay Area thanks to individuals like Oswaldo Martin.
Martin, a Mam native speaker, moved to Oakland when he was four years old. His family, like many others, sought refuge in the United States due to the genocide in Guatemala during the 1980s.
"Many families fled Guatemala in the '80s to Mexico and the States because of the genocide," Martin explained.
Now he serves as an interpreter, bridging the gap between the Mam-speaking community and the immigration process, particularly for those seeking asylum.
"Through this work, I've learned more about my community and some of the problems they face," he said.
Martin's dedication is echoed by Crecencio Ramírez, the founder of Radio B'alam, the only Mam language radio station in Oakland.
During the pandemic, Ramírez initiated this project to provide information and support to his community in their native language. The impact has been profound, growing to have over 50,000 followers on Facebook.
"We're informing people about their rights," Ramírez stated proudly.
The Mam-speaking community in Oakland continues to grow, with an estimated population of 30,000 to 40,000 people. Radio B'alam plays a vital role in connecting these newcomers, providing them with essential information and resources.
Individuals like Marta and Cathy have been deeply impacted by this community effort. They transitioned from receiving information to offering assistance through a group called Voces Maya, which translates to "Mayan Voices." Their mission is clear: to empower community members, inform them of their rights, and provide support and resources.
"Our focus is to teach them that they have the right to stay in this country," explained Cathy. They can have the support, resources, and legal assistance they need if they want to report a crime."
As they continue to meet and collaborate, this thriving Mam-speaking community in Oakland remains committed to preserving its language, culture, and unity.
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