In the United States, Latin American media typically revolves around Spanish speakers. And while these outlets are important in a country that mostly caters to English speakers, these companies still leave out many Latin Americans, including Brazilians and indigenous communities who speak other languages. That’s why in 2014, a group of farmworkers began Radio Indígena – a radio station bringing local and international news as well as pertinent information about immigrants’ rights to indigenous communities in Oxnard, California. It is one the US’ first Mexican indigenous radio station.
“Not being able to communicate limits you a lot,” Arcenio López, president of the Mixteco/Indígena Community Organizing Project (MICOP) in Oxnard. “There’s a lot of challenges you face, from having limited access to healthcare to limited access to legal services or other resources.”
Oxnard – which is largely driven by agriculture – is about 75 percent Latino. And about 20,000 people in Oxnard speak an indigenous language. “There is a large population of Mixteco, Zapotecos, and Purepecha in Ventura County, many of whom are monolingual in their indigenous language,” López told teleSUR.
Economic and political factors, as well as violence, have caused Oaxaca’s indigenous populations to head north. In California, they face racism in “the workplace, housing, and school,” according to Jose Alamillo, a Chicana/o Studies professor at the California State University, Channel Islands. Mexican Americans and other Latinos – who derogatorily call them “Oaxaquitos” or “indios” – also discriminate against them. And with rising anti-immigrant sentiment, the station provides this community important information, including how to interact with immigration officials and what they can do if Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) agents knock on their door.
MICOP – which has a mostly indigenous staff – sprung up to provide health outreach, humanitarian support, and language interpretation for a community whose needs have gone largely unaddressed. The group went even further by starting the radio station. With just a staff of 15 – most of whom were day laborers and farm workers – they began the station a few years ago to unite them and help them feel less alone.
“We want to provide critical community information to our indigenous community in Ventura County as a way of building healthy and empowered communities – creating spaces for honest and truthful conversation about embracing and owning our indigenous identity, language, history … learning to share our truths with our community,” López added. “We hope through Radio Indígena that we provide our community with something that they can identify with and that through this medium they can see value in their language and culture — in doing this, we hope to strengthen their Indigenous pride and build community.”
Radio Indígena provides 40 hours of original programming each week in Spanish, Mixteco, and Zapoteco. The station arose because it needed to fill a void in Oxnard, but the station has listeners from across the country and world. 94.1 FM is mostly accessible to those living in the west coast, but the episodes are also available online. López adds that the station is also working with indigenous communities in Baja California, Oaxaca, Guerrero, as well as from South American countries, like Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, and Chile.