Elva Ambía Rebatta's first language is Quechua, but when she left her town in Peru as a young woman to find work in the United States, speaking Spanish and English became critical for her to survive. While Quechua–a language indigenous to South America–continues to be spoken around the world as a result of such migration stories, UNESCO and other initiatives recognize it as an endangered language. Now in her seventies, Elva decides to help cultivate a Quechua-speaking community in New York City. Living Quechua follows Elva through the challenges and successes of trying to keep Quechua alive.

Background Information

Through an intimate portrait of Elva Ambía, Living Quechua reveals the issues facing Quechua speakers in New York City. Born in Apurimac, Peru, in 1940, Elva learned both the indigenous Quechua language and Spanish as a child; however, her relationship to Quechua was complex. At that time, Quechua was not recognized by the Peruvian government as an official language, and was therefore neither accepted in courts of law nor taught in schools. Discrimination and marginalization of Quechua languages and Quechua speakers–inherited from hundreds of years of Spanish colonialism–were, and still are, deeply entrenched in Peruvian society. Today, Quechua is included on UNESCO's list of the world's endangered languages.

Elva moved to the U.S. as a teenager, but the lack of Quechua-language resources, the demands of school and work, and the absence of a Quechua-speaking community made it incredibly difficult for her to maintain the Quechua language. Now in her seventies, she is determined not only to revive her mother tongue for herself, but to help promote respect for Quechua languages and indigenous cultures throughout New York City.

Since 2010, Director Christine Mladic Janney has developed a relationship with Elva and participated with her in Quechua-related community events in NYC. They decided to collaborate in this film project to help increase visibility of Quechua speakers, the challenges they face, and the positive energy they put toward Quechua languages. Given that most (if not all) films about Quechua have been produced exclusively in the Andes, this film will break new ground and raise critical public awareness. This documentary raises issues that will resonate with a range of other communities, such as those invested in the politics of language revitalization, indigenous and oral language maintenance, women leaders in film, ideas about immigration and concerns about aging.

Kickstarter Campaign

Thanks to the incredible generosity of 89 backers from around the world, the Living Quechua Kickstarter Campaign was successfully funded on April 23, 2014. In fact, backers gave far beyond the campaign's goal, giving us the means to pursue a most exciting outreach plan for the film. The funds we received will not only help us cover the costs of making DVDs, promotional materials, and festival submissions, but perhaps most importantly, they will help us arrange community screenings and create supplementary educational materials.

Visit the Living Quechua Kickstarter campaign >