Sunday morning , February 21, I was in the Bangladesh High Commission in Port Louis, Mauritius.Google reminds us”Bangladesh, to the east of India on the Bay of Bengal, is a South Asian country marked by lush greenery and many waterways. Its Padma (Ganges), Meghna and Jamuna rivers create fertile plains, and travel by boat is common. On the southern coast, the Sundarbans, an enormous mangrove forest shared with Eastern India, is home to the royal Bengal tiger.”
This justice and peace oriented mighty South Asian country of nearly 162,000,000 citizens, is also renowned for successfully advocating for what is now the United Nations recognized annual February 21 Martyrs’ Day & International Mother Language Day celebrated today in many countries around the world. It is the reason why…Namely ,when last week my great friend , Her Excellency Rezina Ahmed , the High Commissioner for Bangladesh in Mauritius , requested I be one of the three judges for their youth essay competition for this day’s celebration focused on the meaning of this critically important day in their country and for the world in understanding the imperatives of mother tongue in human identity,dignity, openness, and achievements such as in education access and attainment. I gladly reorganized my overly hectic schedule to participate.
We devalue, belittle, degrade, and dehumanize others and therefore ourselves as human beings when we deny them the human right to learn, express, and just daily be in their native ,that is mother tongue.We create and sustain discrimination, havoc ,and discord in societies and communities and institutions within them when we deny, marginalize, and exclude plural mother tongues and just stress and require in such an unGodly way,a hegemonic dominating one. When we create societies which fail to make room for the respectful and empowering expansion of languages spoken in a nation by its citizens and those populations veying for citizenship, we are sowing seeds for troubles easily avoided if government and civil society leaders recognize and welcome language newcomers rather than being xenopphobic , racist, ethnocentric ,and otherwise hostile towards them.This is especially the case when those of different mother tongues from the original one are positively contributing to the human resources, workforces, and cultural needs of a nation and when their diverse speakers are upright law abiding citizens in their families , communities, and larger society and world.
As an American whose ancestral mother tongues were stripped away in the brutality of African slavery and in the genocidal treatment of indigenous peoples, this day then has deep sentimental value to me.We need to recognize this day in an America deeply troubled by too long devalued, ignored, and ridiculed plural mother tongue realities coupled with contempoary rapid growth of mother tongue plurality as we become each day statistically Non-White and not just English speaking.
In doing so we must confess first from colonial day one to now,America has always been a plural mother tongue state with English being the hegemonic language of the dominant.Our tradition of disregarding and devaluing Americans whose first language is other than English has been the historical roots of political and economic inequalities, massive wastes of human talents, and the epidemic psychological traumas of millions of tens of millions of Americans stripped of their right to be heard and respected in their mother tongues and of those suffering from their dominant English superiority complexes which eats away at their own humanity as they dehumanize Non-English speakers.
Spainish mother tongues signs are being become seen increasingly in American stores and other consumer and employing insitutions as more a measure of the growing national size and economic value of Spainish speaking peoples than needed humane and human respect for Americans whose native tongue is not English.Trump’s easy fueling of anti-Spainish speaking people sentiment and practices, be they immigrants or not; even in native English speaking Non-White populations such as African Americans and Asian Americans, was due to the iron grip of English only hegemony which continues to persist in too many American systems, sectors, communities, and institutions, making English as Second language programs in primary through graduate schools marginal or nonexistent in too many states with no plural mother tongue federal policy designed and well enforced in sight. It has led to disgraceful public attacks against Spanish speakers with more implicit demeaning attacks against others who don’t speak English especially when they are and more importantly look like they have Non-European ancestry. Such bigoted English only idelogies , stereotypes, and actions are unbecoming for any democratic nation claiming to be a beacon of exceptional global goodwill.Our American tendency to ignore our historical and contemporary plural mother tongue character and to allow it to be a disruptive and destabilizing political football adds fire to the view of our allies and foes around the world that our long exceptional bright star global status is sliding downward on a banna peeling.
Thus, as we move from the nightmare of the four year Trump era even though Trumpism is an anti-plural mother tongue ideology to be around for awhile, let us take advantage of this Biden-Harris glimmer of sunlight to promote the meaning of this day, to hold it high in opposition to the nightmare we are leaving behind as we grapple and become the open dignified America not back but the kind of emerging open America we must become and remain..from now on.