Fourteen-year-old Peruvian Renata Flores got her first taste of celebrity when she uploaded a video of herself covering Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” in Quechua. At the time, there was not a lot known about Renata, who uploaded the video as part of the Asociación Cultural SURCA to help other young people learn the importance of Quechua. A new interview with PRI reveals that Renata is more like the Selena of Quechua – because she sings the language phonetically but is not actually fluent – and Michael Jackson was not her first foray into singing in the ancient Incan language.
On June 2, Renata posted a video of herself singing The Animals’ “The House of the Rising Sun.” Her grandmother translated the lyrics for her, because Renata is only now learning Quechua. She has since inspired others around her to reconsider how they value their heritage. “I’m going to be honest,” Renata’s teacher Ruddier Rojas said to PRI. “When I went to the capital city I was ashamed there about my parents speaking Quechua. I would say no, I denied it. And now I’m embarrassed because I don’t speak Quechua, the origin of my family and the door to my past.”
This isn’t uncommon in Peru, where Quechua is the second-most spoken language with 4.5 million speakers and also has been rejected by the youth.
Recently, Renata held her first concert, where she sang in English, Quechua, and Spanish. This popularity has also translated into her personal life. At school, other students have been inspired to learn Quechua, and even her teacher has been rethinking his indigenous roots.
But this is exactly what Renata set out to do. She wants to change the narrative of Quechua. “I think that’s what they think, Quechua equals poverty, and they don’t put value into it. But that’s not right,” she said.
Read the entire profile at PRI.
Correction 11/13/15: An earlier version of this article misattributed the quote about being ashamed of speaking Quechua to Renata Flores. It was actually said by her teacher Ruddier Rojas. The article has been updated to reflect the correction.