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Kate Bellamy: ‘Exciting to put P'urhepecha community in touch with written heritage’

Many members of Chicago's P'urhepecha community did not even know they lived a stone’s throw from some of their own historical heritage. Researcher Kate Bellamy organised a meeting to introduce them to books hundreds of years old.

‘P’urhepecha is spoken in Mexico, but also now in many diaspora communities in the United States’, Bellamy states. ‘For my Veni project, I am investigating how the language develops under these different conditions, while last year I also received a grant to transcribe and analyse a four-hundred-year-old P'urhepecha dictionary that is in the Newberry Library in Chicago.’


When she gave a public presentation on that work earlier this year, she was struck by how enthusiastically the audience responded. 'They were very happy to see that there is a written history of the language so close to their hearts. At the same time, it came as a surprise to them that those books are available so close at hand.'

Although most members of the P'urhepecha community have only lived in Chicago for around 30 years, the books were donated to the Newberry as early as 1911 as part of a collection of indigenous indigenous Amerikan worksThere, they can be viewed with a free library card, but in practice this has hardly ever happened. Bellamy decided to change that. ‘I feel it is part of my academic responsibility to make these works available to people whose heritage they belong to.’


She therefore co-organised with library-employee Analú López a workshop  in which she and a group of interested P’urhepecha community members visited the books.

'We looked at several books, including the first P’urhepecha dictionary, as well as a map of Michoacán, their home state, from the 19th century The visitors really enjoyed seeing how the cities and population have grown. Besides, it was great to see the books in real life. They are not behind glass. As long as you have clean hands, you can touch them, leaf through them, read the text. It was very special to see everyone discover that this heritage exists and is tangible.'

See you next time?

As far as Bellamy was concerned, therefore, this was not the last time she would conduct such a workshop.  'Now we had to organise the visit on a Friday. When I go to Chicago again next year, I hope to organise a bigger visit on a weekend.’ In the meantime, I will also keep working on the 17th century dictionary, with a view to publishing it before the end of my current project.

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