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  • Ashli Akins

The role of the Andean mother

I have conducted over 100 interviews in the past couple of years with Andean mothers. One of the most heartbreaking parts of each interview is hearing that they feel they have no value, that they have “nothing to give their children,” and that they want to make sure their children “don’t end up like them.” Because they didn’t learn Spanish, they didn’t go to school, they can’t read or write, they don’t have much money.


The stories are not far from my own family’s traumas that have continually been passed down through generations; the devaluing of women’s work, the forgetting (and often shaming of) ancestral knowledge, the sacrificing for one’s child, the convenient misremembering of a woman’s truths.


And yet, it is even so much more so in the stories of the Quechua women I work with, because there are layers of intersectional discrimination, racism, classism, and anti-Indigenous sentiments embedded in their daily realities.


The value of Mother - of mom, mamá - for our world, for our future, is irreplaceable.

The value of the Indigenous mother is undeniable.

The value of the Andean mother is invaluable.

And to sever that relationship between mother and child, between child and land, between child and language, is a human rights violation.


It is because of Mamá that the Andean child and grandchild will be able to speak the ancestral Quechua language. It is because of her that the future generation will know how to weave, how to shear an alpaca, how to spin on a pushka. It is because of her that future boys and girls will know that roq’e and quinoa are natural detergents. That q’olle and yanali make vibrant mustard yellows. How to naturally cure someone from the malevolent winds of the Andes. And so on and so on and so on.

The traditional knowledge, wisdom, skills, and ancestral understanding embedded in every one of the hands and hearts and heads of the women I have the honour of working with is so much more than the years it takes to get a PhD. It is so much more than one lifetime of learning, formally and informally. It is so much more than words and writing and certifications. So much more than what our society claims as “value” and “worth.”



So today, I want to take a moment to honour the many mothers and grandmothers who I have the privilege of learning from every day. Who are contributing to the future generation of their culture, the fabric of our society, and the revitalization of their land and language, through every fibre they weave.


To you, the heart-filled warriors who weave together the past and the future. I thank you and honour you. .

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Photo by Ashli Akins | A bouquet of quinoa that I collected yesterday from all of the flourishing farms in the highland community of Amaru, Sacred Valley, Peru.

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