Gunﬁre rang through the air like ﬁreworks; it was February 21, 1952.
This day marks International Mother Language Day – a day when we all appreciate linguistic diversity around the world. The reason this day means so much to me is not only because my ﬁrst language was the rooting force behind this but also because language is a powerful representation of our culture and heritage.
International Mother Language Day is observed in order to recognise and honour the Language Movement in the then-East Pakistan. At the time, West Pakistan didn't want East Pakistan to have Bangla as its first language. On February 21, 1952 students of Dhaka University organised a procession in which they demanded for Bangla to be the ofﬁcial state language. These students were confronted by police on campus, but they refused to stop. They continued to march until they reached a legislative building, which is where several students were shot by the police. The bustling city of Dhaka became a quiet town. Bangla was not only a way of communication for those in East Pakistan, but it was also a way of life.
Although I was born in the United States, Bangla is my ﬁrst language. As I grew older, I learned English when I started school. However, slowly, I started to lose my grip on my mother tongue since I had to speak English everywhere. My parents constantly told me to speak Bangla, but I never really understood why they wanted me to speak a language in a country where English is the first language. I didn't realise the importance of my origins until my parents explained to me what my people did to ensure their rights to speak this language. They told me that I had the freedom to speak my language when there were people who had to sacrifice their lives in order for others to speak their language.
Language should be a part of our list of accomplishments and we should be proud to represent where we come from. What inspires me to speak my language, Bangla, is a quote by Nelson Mandela, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.