Lansdale Bangla School celebrates International Mother Language Day
Through h songs, s stories, st smiles sm and solemn observaotions, nearly near 100 members of o the area’s Bengali Beng community gathered g at the Lansdale Lan Bangla School — established in 2011 inside the Zion Presbyterian Church on North Line Street — Sunday evening to mark International Mother Language Day.
A worldwide celebration of multilingualism and respect for cultural diversity, International Mother Language Day, which actually falls on Feb. 21, was formally established by the United Nations in 2003 to honor the dozens of Bengalis who were killed by Pakistani forces in 1952 as they were demonstrating for the right to speak the Bengali (or Bangla) language in the region now known as Bangladesh.
“This is the day where we can observe that every ethnic group has the right to speak their own mother language, at least at home to express their feelings and communicate more closely, but at the same time honor the single common language, which in this country is English,” explained Partha Debnath, founder of the Friends of Bangla School, who opened the Lansdale Bangla School to teach K to 12 children Bengali language, history and culture.
“We want our children to aspire to be good citizens, so in order to help them understand diversity and tolerance for all ethnicities, we help them learn their own mother language, because unless you know your own traditions and heritage, you will not be able to respect others,” he said. “And this country being the most beautiful country in the world, we can have the melting pot here. It’s unity in diversity — we’re all united under the same Pledge of Allegiance, but we all have our own characteristics that contribute to the fabric.”
Sunday’s celebration began with the playing of the national anthems of Bangladesh, India, the United States and South Korea — when Bengal was partitioned for the second time in 1947 (along religious lines, Muslim and Hindu), West Bengal became part of India and East Bengal, later Bangladesh, became part of Pakistan. (The Korean anthem was played because Zion Presbyterian is a Korean Mission church.)
“Here, we are trying to stay above regional boundaries, countries and religions — it’s all about the language,” said Debnath. “Some are from Bangladesh, I am from West Bengali in India, but we are all Bengali by heart.”
Then, all of the men, women, boys and girls — most dressed in traditional saris and dKoWLs — lLnHd uS Ln sLnJlH filH and one by one placed a single floZHU DWoS D UHSlLFD oI WKH memorial monument in Dhaka (the capital of Bangladesh) that pays tribute to those killed in 1952. They’re considered martyrs in the Bengali language movement, a precursor to the nationalist movement that led to the formation of the independent Bangladesh in 1971.
Lansdale Councilman Jack Hansen, one of the evening’s guests, also took part in the somber observance by placing KLs oZn floZHU on WoS oI WKH pile.
“It’s very important for their language and culture to continue, because they may live in Lansdale now but they cannot forget where they came from,” he said. “This school is so important both for the Bangla community and the rest of Lansdale because in other parts of the world, people don’t understand one another and so they’re killing each other. Here, we want to bring all the communities together to make our community even stronger.”
A fivH-PLnuWH vLdHo Hxplaining the background of International Mother Language Day was shown, and then a small group of students from the school presented more history about the occasion in both Bengali and English. Then, about two dozen students — accompanied by adults playing Bangla percussion instruments — sang traditional songs. And, of course, there was plenty of delicious Bangladeshi and Indian food to go around.
Debnath said that the Lansdale Bangla School, which started out two years ago with 12 students, has swelled to more than 60 students. They meet inside the church every Sunday for classes in Bengali language and culture as well as American citizenship. He hopes it can be a model for other groups in the area.
“We wanted to use International Mother Language Day as a symbolic day to come together, to spread the message and have other ethnicities do something like this,” he said. “This is the beginning of a long journey, and of course there are always challenges in bringing people together. But being American means we’re a collective of all the goodness of many different people and cultures. If we are able to understand that, then many of our problems will go away.”
At top, members of the area Bengali community celebrate International Mother Language Day Sunday. Above, students from the Lansdale Bangla School wait for the celebration to begin.
Left, Lansdale Councilman Jack Hansen, right, celebrates International Mother Language Day with the Bengali community Sunday.