New York City is not only the most diverse city in the nation, its linguistic diversity is unmatched by any other city in the world, with over 200 languages spoken by residents across the five boroughs. This Friday, Feb. 21, we once again gather to proudly celebrate our linguistic diversity on International Mother Language Day.
In the ultimate city of immigrants, nearly half of all New Yorkers speak a language other than English at home — a population as big as the second-largest U.S. city. And Queens takes the prize as the single-most linguistically diverse county on the planet.
International Mother Language Day emerged out of the political experience of Bangla language activists in the 1950s as they struggled to gain official recognition of their linguistic rights. It has since inspired communities across the world to promote the preservation and protection of their languages and traditions.
We must remain true to that mission, to work toward a city that embraces our diversity and our historic status as one of the world’s most vibrant cradles of languages in all their varied forms. Language is integral to our identities, to our communities and to our sense of self and belonging. A city that affirms and uplifts the languages of its people is one that signals it is a place for everyone.
The importance of language diversity to our city is exemplified by the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs’ work with sister agencies to implement Local Law 30, the city’s language access law. This law ensures that city government can effectively communicate with and improve access to services for all individuals, including New Yorkers who are limited English proficient. To further this work, we are expanding our linguistic reach to New Yorkers who speak languages of lesser diffusion — those that are historically marginalized and endangered in New York City.
As part of this effort, we are thrilled to unveil at our International Mother Language Day event this Friday a new series of more than 15 videos in native languages spoken by local community members, including Arabic, Fulani, Garifuna, Indonesian, K’iche’, Kichwa, Mande, Mixteco, Nepali, Punjabi, Tagalog, Thai, Tibetan, Uzbek, Wolof and Yiddish.
The videos share the message of IDNYC, the city’s free identification program for all New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status, and the card’s many benefits, including access to city services, affordable healthcare, free memberships at museums and discounts on prescription drugs, groceries, fitness, entertainment and so much more. With the ability to include a preferred language, emergency contact and gender marker on IDNYC cards, the program empowers, protects and provides a sense of security for New Yorkers including those who proudly speak languages other than English.
Paired with a live language presentation by community members, the new video series affirms the commitment of MOIA and IDNYC to serve and create greater visibility for multilingual New Yorkers. We welcome everyone to join us for a celebration this Friday from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Surrogate’s Courthouse (31 Chambers St., main auditorium) — and encourage all New Yorkers to take pride in their native languages as we recognize the richness and strength that emerge when we embrace the many languages that have found a home here.
As I say in Persian, my family’s mother language, “Be omide didar!” (Translation: We look forward to seeing you!).
Bitta Mostofi is Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.