By SARA ARTHURS
How would you feel if you were told you could no longer speak your native language?
In Pakistan in 1952, students protested for the right to use their native language after the government declared Urdu the sole national language (although many spoke Bengali, or Bangla). Several were killed for their convictions.
Every Feb. 21, on the anniversary of their deaths, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization marks International Mother Language Day.
In Findlay on Thursday, a group of international students at the University of Findlay observed this day by presenting songs, dance, poetry and speeches in a variety of languages to their classmates. Many wore outfits representing their cultures.
Sadia Akhter Aurna, now a sophomore, suggested the event last year to Hiroaki Kawamura, director in the area of modern languages at UF. An event was organized with just 15 days of planning.
Aurna, from Bangladesh, organized this year’s event along with Santosh Timilsina, from Nepal.
Timilsina, interviewed before the program, said he hoped that by the time the celebration ended, people would know more about Nepal, including a little of its language. He said noninternational students would learn to interact with people of other languages and cultures.
“In diversity there is unity,” Timilsina said.
He said he can’t normally speak his own language with other university students, so he speaks English. But this one day gives him — and other international students — the chance to speak their own language.
Aurna said the event is all about the diversity of languages.
“Every two weeks, one language dies,” she said. And when a language dies, so does a part of that culture, she said, adding that the world needs to preserve these languages for future generations.
Aurna said she wants people to know that there are many languages (more than 6,000 worldwide), and that “language is really important.”
Each language has its own value, and knowing different languages helps your brain, she said. People may get offended when they hear someone else’s language — but she wants people to know that speaking your mother language is an important thing.
She uses English all the time at the university. These days she even thinks in English. But “There are some things I can’t express in English. … When you’re sad, when you’re angry,” it’s best to express these emotions in your own language, she said.
She noted International Mother Language Day is held Feb. 21 every year, “because that day, people died for language.”
She closed the event with a poem commemorating the 1952 events — depicting a son talking to his mother about protesting because “they are taking our words away from us.” The emotion in the poem was obvious to those listening, regardless of whether they understood Bengali.
That was a common theme throughout. The grace of the students who contributed dance performances carried through, even if the viewer didn’t understand the words they were dancing to.
Maha Azzazi read and sang in the Syrian Arabic dialect. Others sang in Chinese, in Macedonian, in Japanese, and even in English.
Kawamura said Findlay and Hancock County are “a diverse community,” but people don’t see that diversity when their eyes and ears “tend to be closed.”
“I consider the right to speak one’s own language … a part of basic human rights,” Kawamura said. And respecting someone involves respecting their language, as it is an “integral part of their culture.”
The students created a video in which they share what country they are from, in their own language. Eighteen countries and 20 languages are represented.
Kawamura said the video was shared with Findlay and Hancock County schools, as it’s short enough that teachers can use it in their classrooms.
Aurna said she hopes the event will continue long after she graduates. “I’m just thankful” that there is an interest, she said.
And, she said, the video will raise awareness.
“So this is preserved,” she said. “This is not going to die.”
Arthurs: 419-427-8494 Send an E-mail to Sara Arthurs