TEMPE, Ariz. — Students at Marcos de Niza High School will soon have the chance to learn a language that's been embedded in the surrounding community for generations.
The Tempe Union High School District Governing Board voted last month to create a new course in the 2023-2024 school year that teaches the Yaqui language at one of its high schools.
The Pascua Yaqui Tribe has a long and storied history in the community of Guadalupe, which is within the TUHSD boundaries.
Members of the community have recently told the school district they're thrilled to see Tempe Union strengthen relations with the Pascua Yaqui Tribe by offering this new course.
Yaqui Tribal Councilmember Antonia Campoy expressed support for teaching the Yaqui language in local schools and said the class offers a valuable opportunity for students to learn local history.
"It's a win-win for students and it's a win-win for Tempe Union High School (District)," Campoy said during a school board meeting last month.
The Yaqui people began settling in the Guadalupe area at the turn of the 20th century after they were forced out of their homeland in Mexico.
According to research published by a Arizona State University student, the Yaqui community began reviving their cultural activities in Arizona by the 1910s and the Yaqui people earned a reputation for being dependable, hard workers.
Researchers have suggested that members of the Yaqui community had to uniquely adopt a trilingual method of communication in order to adapt to the other communities in the Salt River Valley.
"The trilingual characteristic of the contemporary Arizona Yaqui community is a cross-cultural legacy of the dynamics of their living many decades in proximity to ever increasing numbers of non-Indigenous language speaking neighbors flanking both their Mexican and U.S. communities," Octaviana V. Trujillo wrote in a 1997 paper on the subject.
But a lack of language education in Tempe's schools reportedly resulted in the Guadalupe Organization opening an alternative school with volunteers who could teach English, Spanish and Yaqui to about 200 local students.
The trilingual school operated for about a decade before it closed due to financial problems, according to Trujillo's research.
The Tucson Unified School District began offering Yaqui speaking courses to its students a few years ago in an attempt to preserve the language for future generations, according to the Arizona Daily Star.
TUHSD Governing Board member Sarah James said she's excited to add the Yaqui class to the district's catalog. Having grown up in the local community, James said she knew little about Guadalupe's cultural history until she was an adult.
"That's a huge disservice to everybody so it's been wonderful to see this progress," James said.
District officials say they intend to add a second-level Yaqui language course for the 2024-2025 school year.
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