‘Mother Language Day’ May Bring New Life to Jackson Heights Plaza

Some Jackson Heights merchants have complained that the pedestrianized plaza on 37th Road has hurt their business, but it may become the site of a new city tradition, reported the Queens Chronicle:

Bangladeshi groups in Jackson Heights are seeking the city’s permission to observe International Mother Language Day on Feb. 21.

The fest, recognized by the United Nations, commemorates the day in 1952 when Bangladeshis took to the streets to protest against then-ruling Pakistan’s efforts to quash Bengali, the native language, and impose Urdu, Pakistan’s mother tongue.

At least four people were killed when Pakistani police fired into the crowd. But Bangladeshis’ efforts to preserve their language, and gain independence from Pakistan, were ultimately successful. A monument in Dhaka, Bangladesh called the Shaheed Minar was eventually built to honor the protesters who died.

The commemoration has taken place for several years on private property, The Queens Chronicle reported. The Jackson Heights Bangladeshi Business Association and the Youth Congress of Bangladeshi Americans hope to build a temporary replica of Shaheed Minar, and are planning a procession along the plaza on 37th Road and ceremony to include laying of flowers and a traditional hymn. Councilman Danny Dromm and Community Board 3 support the plan, he told the Queens Chronicle.

In addition, Dromm supports the groups’ greater goal: to erect a permanent monument at the Broadway and 73rd Street triangle. His office has put in a request with the Department of Transportation to consider the proposal.

It would be, Dromm said, a “monument to all people who have ever had to go through the possibility of losing their mother tongue.” He added that the monument’s message would have special meaning for the children of Latino immigrants in the area, who he said are often at risk of losing the ability to speak Spanish. Being able to speak both English and a second language should be valued, he noted.

Dromm said he also hopes that the commemoration helps the neighborhood come to terms with the controversial pedestrian plaza.

He was also pleased that the Bangladeshi groups’ plans for International Mother Language Day involve the use of the 37th Road plaza, which the JBBA has protested since it was created, when a block of 37th Road was closed to traffic by the DOT last September. JBBA members say the closure has hurt businesses in the area.

“Now that the plaza is there, ironically, everybody wants to use the plaza,” Dromm said.

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