MANCHESTER — Residents were treated to multicultural music and dance performances, touching poetry readings and presentations of artistic works during the city’s third annual celebration of International Mother Language Day on Sunday.
The multi-day event honored the annual celebration, held around the world on February 21 since 1999 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity. It’s a day people died on in Bangladesh as they defended the Bangla language against repression in 1952, event organizer Tamara Speaks has said.
“It’s a cultural gathering for the community,” Speaks said, adding, “It’s a really big event for culture, for everyone’s culture, and it allows people to see other cultures too.”
The 15 different languages represented at the event were celebrated with multilingual poetry readings, guest speakers and performances by several local groups.
One such performance was a reading of the Hebrew song “Erev Shel Shoshanim” accompanied by Israeli-style belly dancing hosted by Rima Perlstein-Riedel.
“It’s been sung over and over again by people all over the world,” Perlstein-Riedel said of the song. She added that the dancers, all over the age of 60, have almost exclusively learned their routine virtually for the past two years and have only had four in-person rehearsals.
“The fact that they can do it virtually is amazing,” Perlstein-Riedel said Sunday.
“I have a sciatic nerve problem, but with dancing I will forget the pain,” said Iris Castellano, who was one of the belly dancers who performed on Sunday.
After the readings and performances, the event ended with the laying of flowers on a replica of the Shaheed Minar, a monument in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which honors those killed by police while defending the language Bengali in 1952.
Arshad Rahman, a Bengali speaker who attended the celebration on Sunday, called it a “great event” and said he was proud to communicate with his family members in his native language.
“Everyone should learn their language, it’s good to know, the more languages you learn, there’s a benefit,” Rahman said.
The importance of learning mother tongues was also highlighted by one of the guest speakers at the event, Fahmeed Hyder.
Hyder, a professor at Yale University, called for language preservation and said around 25% of the world’s languages are at risk of disappearing forever. He urged attendees to learn their mother tongue because when a language is not learned by the next generation, cultural information is also lost.
Manchester Mayor Jay Moran also attended the celebration and gave a speech highlighting the importance of diversity in Manchester.
“As long as I’m mayor…we’ll always fight for that freedom to be who you are and be proud of where you come from,” Moran said Sunday.