Penn graduate student Nico Suárez-Guerrero is the first Quechua Fulbright scholar in the Ivy League and currently the only one in the United States. As a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant, Suárez-Guerrero is helping create a space on campus for his culture through the Penn Quechua Language Program.
Suárez-Guerrero and Program Coordinator Américo Mendoza-Mori are leading the Quechua Language Program as it celebrates its fifth anniversary this year. Mendoza-Mori designed the curricula and initiatives for the program, which was founded in response to students' demonstrated interest as part of the Penn Language Center, according to Suárez-Guerrero.
“We don’t just offer classes, but an opportunity to bring diverse perspectives," Suárez-Guerrero wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian. “We have so much to share, and that can be new for many members of the Penn community," he continued.
Penn hosts one of seven programs in the United States that celebrates indigenous language and culture. Quechua is the most commonly spoken indigenous language in South America and is spoken by 8-12 million people worldwide, though UNESCO has deemed it an endangered language.
Penn's program has promoted indigenous language and community issues on a regional and global scale. The program has led activities that have engaged the local communities of Nahuatl and Maya speakers from South Philadelphia, organized a week of activities alongside the United Nations celebration of the 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages, and hosted a conference in Andean studies in 2017.
The program currently offers one to two courses each semester and hosts four graduate students, according to Penn Today. The courses are interdisciplinary with Penn’s Department of Linguistics, Latin American and Latino Studies Program, and Native American and Indigenous Studies minor.
Suárez-Guerrero wrote he wants to expand the program to include immersion programs in Quechua-speaking communities, and he is looking for ways to work with other programs involving indigenous people, such as Natives at Penn. He also added he wants students to feel that indigenous voices are a part of campus life, even if they do not enroll specifically in the Quechua program.
“We are creating and strengthening community and this is important," he said. “The goal is to add voices that might be unknown: Indigenous people across have so much to say about respect and care of nature.”
Suárez-Guerrero wrote he was honored to receive the Fulbright, and he hopes that he will not remain the only Quechua-speaker to earn it.
"I hope that this door remains open to many more people not only from Peru, but from other regions where Quechua is spoken," he wrote. "I don’t want to be the only one."