Sunday, 21 February 2016

Ekushey: Loving our Mother Tongue

Today is Ekushey, in other words, International Mother's Language Day.

This day commemorates the sacrifices made by the members of the Bengali Language Movement and martyrs who were killed by the police for protesting the recognition of, as well as the right to learn and govern in, Bangla as the official language of current day Bangladesh. On our beautiful Earth, over 6000 languages are being spoken and yet over 2000 are being endangered of becoming extinct for reasons including war, genocide, political and cultural oppression.

I can only speak as a daughter of an immigrant about the difficulty of preserving my mother tongue while adapting into another dominant society. I am annoyed at my younger self for running away from the times my mother attempted to teach me to read and write in Bangla but I know my struggle of adapting into two cultures. During my undergrad, I have had the time to learn about the history and heritage I came from, allowing myself to have more pride in my roots and more importantly, in who I am. I fell in love with Bangla again.

However, we should question how tolerant our society is when people feel pressured to give up their mother tongue, neglect their parent's language as a consequence of becoming "accepted". What about the times people have been verbally and violently abused for speaking a different language (and for what they believe in, the colour of their of skin, their orientation, the list goes on). How can we let the UK's Prime Minister get away with only supporting Muslim women to learn English when it comes at the expense of patronising, generalising and vilifying them by linking them to terrorism (instead of blaming his own policies that marginalises the BME community)? My mom, along with many other Muslim mothers, have raised their children to be nothing but the best!

Happiness is James asking me to teach him Bangla so he can be part of my parents' world, power is being able to effortlessly bust out some Spanish while travelling in Costa Rica and home is when I talk to my mom & dad in both the languages I grew up in. My thoughts may be mostly in English, but "Ammu" and "Abbu" is what I call out when I am joyful, frightened, excited and sad.

Protecting our mother tongue and the ability to learn a new language isn't just about having mobility in a country, but also being deeply involved in a unique culture, engaging with people in a way they can truly express themselves. In the words of UNESCO, International Mother Language Day is to "develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue."

For more information on the background to Ekushey, here's a great post here. Credits to CU Bangla Soc for the link.

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