Henry Sales, Mam Educator: How I Became an Advocate for My Indigenous Community

In this video, Indigenous educator Henry Sales (Mam) describes how he became a strong advocate for the Mam community here in the U.S. despite early challenges and discrimination.


I was born in San Juan Atitan, that’s in Spanish, in Mam it’s Xjan Xwan. I remember going to school and I was speaking Spanish, well, my broken Spanish. And my classmates were making fun of me for not speaking fluent Spanish. And I was asking like – or always telling me that, “Oh, you belong to the jungle like, you should go back where you’re coming from,” and I felt bad.

I knew enough Spanish or how to say, being able to say my name, my age, and have a small conversation, but to express myself or talk about a subject, it was really hard for me. And at some point I was like, “Yeah, I need to get rid of this culture and I wanted to become one of them so I can be accepted.”

I think I overcome the challenge of that one by saying that I’m not going to get rid of my language, I’m going to stick with it, and I’m going to tell one day that I’m proud.

My teacher in college, one teacher was Chicano. He always talked about Indigenous people. And he always showed us great books to read and documentaries. And watching those or reading those materials helped me a lot to like, to find myself.

I started reading books when I got my job at Oakland Public Library and San Francisco Public Library. And I found myself, I was surrounded by history books, and I started reading books about my identity, my story, and the story of my ancestors. And I was like, “Oh my God, I’m a decedent of this civilization and I should be proud, and I should not be ashamed, and I should go back and study more history,” and that led me to go back to college and study a little bit of our history.

And I felt proud and being proud. Since then I’ve been like an advocate for my community, and that has led me to teach Mam language, and created the class where everyone is welcome to come.

We’re here. We’re going to be here for many years to come. And we’ll see in the near future that the culture and the language will flourish.