Living Quechua: A Documentary About Quechua in NYC


This week we’re happy to feature a guest post by Christine Mladic Janney, an LATG community member and the director of an upcoming documentary titled “Living Quechua.” This project draws attention to one woman’s struggle to preserve her endangered native language – Quechua – in New York City, a place referred to as “a graveyard for languages” by the BBC.

With over 800 languages represented in NYC it can easily be qualified as one of the most linguistically diverse places on Earth. However, the shift from the smaller languages spoken by many New York immigrants to the more mainstream languages such as English, Spanish or Mandarin can result in the decline in use of these smaller languages. Living Quechua promises to offer a unique window into the life of one such case and the ways one woman is fighting back.

Make sure to check out their video for a quick multilingual overview of the project and a brief preview of the documentary!

So without further ado, over to you Christine!



I first met Elva Ambía in 2011, at a Quechua language event in New York City. I was a Quechua language student, having first been exposed to the language at the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at NYU. Quechua is Elva’s first language, the language her parents spoke at home, and the language of her childhood town in Peru. We decided to start meeting at her house for Quechua conversation hours, and our friendship began.

Over the course of many afternoons of tea and toasted corn, our circle of Quechua-speaking friends grew. But we knew there was a much larger population in New York City we wanted to reach. Under Elva’s leadership, we started the New York Quechua Initiative, and began putting together events throughout the city to raise awareness of and celebrate Quechua languages and the people who speak them.

Christine and Elva

In 2013 Elva and I decided to make a documentary about her experiences with Quechua. Living Quechua explores the broad themes of language and identity by focusing on the particular experiences of Elva. Elva’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 survival. While Quechua–a language indigenous to South America–continues to be spoken around the world as a result of similar migration stories, UNESCO and other initiatives now 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.

We are now in the final stretches of a Kickstarter campaign to support Living Quechua–there are only a few days left! You can receive a DVD, a set of illustrated Quechua flashcards, and more by contributing at The film is set to be finished in the summer of 2014, after which point we will send it to festivals and screenings around the world.

Christine Mladic Janney currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she pursues film, photography, and digital media projects. Christine has studied the Quechua language since 2008, and is Producer of the collaborative Quechua podcast series Rimasun. Christine is currently pursuing a PhD in Sociocultural Anthropology and a certificate in Culture and Media at NYU.

If you enjoyed this article please subscribe via email to receive all LATG updates! Subscribers receive a copy of Erik Zidowecki’s eBook “Finding Your Way to Languages” for a limited time as well as a free 3 month VIP subscription to Linqapp and will be eligible for all future giveaways!

  • Yvonne Dennis

    Hi. Love this! I am currently writing a book, Native American Almanac, and would like to include her in the Urban chapter. Do you have a black and white photo of her? Thanks, Yvonne Dennis