Indígena Language Groups
The Maya speakers of Yucatán and the aggregate of the Náhuatl (Aztec language) speakers of the central plateau are Mexico’s most numerous indígena groups, totaling roughly three million (one million Maya, two million Nahua).
Official figures, which show that the Puerto Vallarta region’s indigenous population amounts to a mere 1 percent of the total, are misleading. Official counts do not measure the droves of transient folks—migrants and new arrivals—who sleep in vehicles, shantytowns, behind their crafts stalls, and with friends and relatives. Although they are officially invisible, you will see them in Puerto Vallarta, walking along the beach, for example, laden with their for-sale fruit or handicrafts— men often in sombreros and scruffy jeans, women often in homemade full-skirted dresses with aprons much like your great-great-grandmother may have worn.
Immigrants in their own country, they flock to cities and tourist resorts from hardscrabble rural areas of the poorest states, often Michoacán, Guerrero, and Oaxaca. Although of pure native blood, they will not acknowledge it or will even be insulted if you ask them if they are indígenas. It would be more polite to ask them where they’re from. If from Michoacán, they’ll often speak Tarasco (more courteously, say Purépecha: poo-RAY-pay-chah); if from Guerrero, the answer will often be Náhuatl, Tlapaneco, or Amuzgo. Oaxaca folks, on the other hand, will probably be fluent in a dialect of either Zapotec or Mixtec. If not one of these, then it might be Amuzgo, Chatino, Trique, Chontal, or any one of a dozen others from Oaxaca’s crazy-quilt of language.
As immigrants always have, they come seeking opportunity. If you’re interested in what they’re selling, bargain with humor. And if you err, let it be on the generous side. They are proud, honorable people who prefer to walk away from a sale rather than to lose their dignity.
© Bruce Whipperman from Moon Puerto Vallarta, 7th edition