On Feb. 20, the Bangladeshi Student Association (BSA) hosted their annual International Mother Language Coffeehouse in honor of International Mother Language Day, which has been observed every Feb. 21 since it was announced by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1999. Tazrean Hossain ’24, current co-president of BSA, explained the importance of this observance in the specific context of BSA.
“In 1952, the Bengali people who, at the time, were part of Pakistan, engaged in protest basically to have their language spoken, and it was … very bloody,” said Hossain. “We commemorate the martyrs who died for our language to be spoken and celebrate the fact that Bangladesh is currently the only country named after its language and really prides itself on that linguistic solidarity.”
The BSA’s Instagram account posted a graphic detailing more of the history to further contextualize the Coffeehouse. Starting in 1948, when officials of what was then West Pakistan (now Bangladesh) implemented an Urdu-only policy. Dhaka University students organized mass demonstrations, culminating in police opening fire on Feb. 21, 1952, killing several protestors and injuring hundreds. This propelled the Bengali self-determination movement further, eventually leading to Bangladesh’s liberation.
To amplify this sentiment of cultural and linguistic diversity, BSA’s Coffeehouse has “historically been an avenue for Wellesley students to come together and share the rich cultures behind their mother tongue languages,” according to BSA’s Instagram post announcing the event.
“I think the Coffeehouse is such a great way for us to share our BSA community with the greater Wellesley campus, and so it’s such a healing and open space. It’s often really emotional and really funny,” said Hossain. “People laugh, people cry, and it’s just a great way for people to see how special BSA really is, because we put on this event where people come forth and talk about their relationship with their language and their culture, and often their really difficult relationship with their language and culture.”
While hosted by the BSA, the event was not exclusive to Bangladesh. Performances included Bangla, Spanish, Chinese, as well as translations in English and were comprised of music, spoken word, and a zine.
Hossain also made a note of the importance of the location of the Coffeehouse. While the event was held at El Table this year, she highlighted the historical location and its significance.
“Historically, Coffeehouse has been at Pub [Punch’s Alley], and unfortunately we [weren’t] able to have it there,” she said. “I think we really want to affirm our relationship with the co-ops and just support them on campus, and that’s why it’s so important for us to commit to doing it in this space [El Table] this year.”
Affirming the importance of the co-operatives in relation to this event furthers both their and the BSA’s goals for providing a space for marginalized and underrepresented students. Hossain emphasized the importance of these spaces and how they can impact the broader Wellesley community.
“Diversity on this campus is not just about your ethnicity, your race. It’s also about your culture and the way that you were raised, the languages that you were raised with — even if it’s not within your own family, thinking about the languages you heard growing up in your neighborhood, in your schools [is important],” said Hossain. “I just hope that everyone can see the importance of International Mother Language Day and its relevance to their personal lives.”