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Say what? Williamsburg-based newspaper publishes in exotic, ancient tongues

Indigenous pride: A family displays indigenous-themed jewelry at the Zenka Sunqu newspaper’s fifth anniversary event in Central Park.
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Talk about speaking your language!

A Williamsburg publisher is preserving the spoken word of ancient cultures by printing editions of its seasonal paper in some languages that are more common in a history book than daily life. Zenka Sunqu’s staff, which began printing the indigenous-peoples-themed newspaper in 2012, translate its pages into forgotten American languages including Nahuatl and Quechua in addition to printing them in English and Spanish in an attempt to bring the centuries-old tongues back into the conversation, its editor in chief said.

“Our focus is allowing indigenous people to have a voice,” said Javier Enriquez.

The paper’s name combines two words from the ancient languages it is published in: Zenka — which means “daily” in Nahuatl, a language also known as Aztec that is native to central Mexico — and Sunqu — which means “heart” in Quechua, a tongue that originated in South America’s Andes mountains.

Its articles and poems — which are also printed in Zapotec, which some Mexicans still speak today, and Chibcha, a language that originated in Colombia — cover an array of indigenous themes in the Americas and beyond, according to Enriquez.

“We cover topics ranging from the World Indigenous Games in Brazil, to the preservation of aboriginal land in Australia, and archaeological objects in Cambodia,” he said.

And Zenka Sunqu’s journalists write about their own backyard, too, including a report on the education of immigrant children in the local public-school system, which one contributor recently slammed for overlooking the indigenous pupils in its classrooms.

“How can we have conversations in U.S. classrooms about recognizing and responding to the presence of indigenous children from countries such as Mexico, when we have failed to do the same for Native American children and students,” Marial Quezada wrote in the Fall–Winter 2017 issue.

Contributors often hail from the Borough of Kings, according to Enriquez, who said many come from a community of Mexican immigrants who speak Mixtec.

A team of volunteers assists with getting each issue out, donating their time because they are inspired by the newspaper’s mission, according to a helper.

“We want not only indigenous peoples to read about their own issues, but also to inform others about the challenges indigenous peoples face and their successes and dreams,” said Paula Sánchez-Kucukozer, the head English and Spanish translator and a copy editor for the newspaper, who lives in the outer borough of Queens. “Using indigenous languages also sends the message that they are as valuable and important as any other language, and that we respect the heritage of our writers and readers.”

The paper is distributed across the city at powwows, spiritual events, and Mexican-community gatherings, its editor in chief said, and copies are also mailed to indigenous groups in Canada and Mexico.

And in addition to publishing Zenka Sunqu, the staff holds native rituals across the city, such as hosting a recent sun-gazing ceremony in Sunset Park — a tradition Enriquez said is both spiritual and practical.

“Many ancient peoples like the Egyptians and the Aztecs gazed at the sun at sunrise and sundown because the most powerful energies are released then,” he said. “It’s like yoga or meditation. It preserves your health.”

Printing the newspaper, which is owned by local indigenous-peoples advocacy group Movimiento Indigena Asociados, is not the most profitable endeavor, however, and Enriquez said he relies on some donors’ contributions for funding in addition to more traditional revenue earned from advertisements purchased by grassroots organizations and local businesses.

In fact, the editor in chief revealed that the Fall–Winter 2017 issue could be the paper’s last because of money issues, but he said he’s optimistic it will weather its latest fiscal crisis.

“It’s so hard to fund it,” he said. “But I’ve said this the past four years, and Zenka Sunqu still goes on.”

Reach reporter Adam Lucente at alucente@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow him on Twitter @Adam_Lucente.
Updated 1:17 pm, January 10, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Morris from Mill Basin says:
This is a good thing to do, but the title was misleading. I was looking forward to reading an article about a newspaper publishing on actual people's tongues -- particularly the tongues ripped from the disgusting bodies of some Brooklyn Paper commenters!
Jan. 9, 10:42 am
Gary from Fort Greene says:
Are they putting together an edition in ancient Sumerian, using the original cuneiform characters? Might have to distribute it on clay tablets.
Jan. 9, 12:56 pm
Kelly from Queens says:
How about the exotic, forgotten language of English which no one seems to be able to speak anymore?!
I'm sure back in their home countries these people could find lots of newspapers in their languages.
Jan. 9, 4:35 pm
Mary Hopkins from Everett, MA says:
Nahuatl is not "forgotten"! It has around a million living speakers, and ranges from northern Mexico down into Central America.
Jan. 10, 3:26 pm

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