Identity Politics Done Right

From Flickr @  BID Ciudades Sostenibles.  Creative Commons.

From Flickr @ BID Ciudades Sostenibles. Creative Commons.

Many of us have never heard of the exotic-sounding Quetzaltenango, a city in the mountains of Guatemala where cultures new and old meet to create a vibrant whole. But back in February of this year, SIL LEAD executive director Paul Frank traveled there to lead a series of workshops that would help spread Bloom software throughout the country, and contribute to the conservation of not just the Mam and K’iche languages, but entire ways of life.

As Paul said on his trip to Abidjan the month before (appearing here on a news report from a Nigerian TV station), “Language is closely aligned with identity. And we would want all people to feel supported in their identity.”

In a previous post about the exponential power of teaching, we examined how training people to train others can result in an exponential expansion of knowledge, and how this is crucial when it comes to the preservation of language communities around the world. Bloom is a tool that helps make that possible, by empowering people within those communities to create the books that will preserve their language and culture in a world in which homogenization would be perhaps easier, but also a great loss.

From February 13 to 23, Paul worked with the USAID Reading and Learning Project in Guatemala to carry out two Bloom training workshops (one in Quetzaltenango and the other in Guatemala City) and also a workshop for the training of Bloom trainers in Guatemala City—all with the cooperation of the Guatemalan Ministry of Education, with an intense focus on what Bloom could do for the preservation of the Mam and K'iche languages.


The workshops were a success, and as usual it was not just the trainees who were left with expanded knowledge and a renewed enthusiasm for multilingual education. Paul, too, learned from the participants and benefitted immensely from interacting with them in their home country. As the Guatemalans shared their thoughts, they helped Paul to refine his.

Sometimes the fracturing trend of identity politics can make us to want to throw in the towel on diversity and just stick with the relative ease of homogeneity. If everyone’s the same, the reasoning goes, we’ll all get along perfectly. But what Paul learns every time he travels to a place like Quetzaltenango is that when diverse identities are celebrated as part of a beautiful whole, they can just as easily become a culture’s greatest strength.