Tlaxcala, the international network for linguistic diversity, was founded on December 2005 by a small group of cyberactivists who'd become acquainted through the Internet and discovered that they shared common interests, common dreams and common problems. The network quickly grew, has many members today, and translates into 15 languages. This Manifesto, approved by all of them, expresses their common philosophy:
All languages of the world must, and do contribute to the brotherhood of mankind. Contrary to what many people used to believe, a language is not only a grammatical structure, a set of interconnected words, in agreement with a syntactic code, but also, and especially, a creation of meaning based upon our senses. Thus we observe, interpret and express our world from a specific personal, geographical and political context. Because of this, no language is neutral, and all languages carry the “genetic code”, the imprint of the cultures to which they belong. Latin, the first imperial language, reached its high point by trampling on the remains of the languages it destroyed as the Roman legions extended their presence to the south of Europe, the north of Africa and the Middle East. It is no accident that at the beginning of the Renaissance it was the Spanish language, a genetic daughter of Latin, which brought about new devastation, this time among the conquered peoples of the American continent.
An empire and its language always go together and are predators by definition. They reject otherness. Any imperial language constitutes itself as the subject of History, narrates it from its point of view and annihilates (or tries to do so) the points of view in languages it considers inferior. The official History of any empire is never innocent, but motivated by the zeal to justify yesterday’s acts today in order to project its own version upon tomorrow.
Nobody knows what suffering was endured by the peoples conquered by the Roman Empire, since there is no written record of their defeat, which meant the disappearance of their cultures. Conversely, a testimony was left in the languages of the American continent, conquered by the Spanish Empire. Towards the second half of the 16th Century, shortly after the conquest of Mexico, Brother Bernardino de Sahagún assembled what it is known today as The Florentine Codex, a mixture of Náhua tales (Náhuatl is the language of the most ancient Aztecs, still spoken in Mexico) and pictorial illustrations that describe pre-Hispanic society and culture. The second testimony, which contradicts the first one, is The Lienzo de Tlaxcala, also transcribed during the 16th Century by the mestizo Diego Muñoz de Camargo, who based his story upon the frescoes painted by his ancestors – the Tlaxcaltecan nobility – who described in images both the arrival of Hernán Cortés and the fall of Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire, destroyed by the Conquistadors who replaced it with Mexico City. Tlaxcala was at the time the rival city-state to the Tenochtitlan Aztec empire, and aided Cortés in destroying it. It was an attitude akin to drafting its own death sentence, since the new Spanish Empire which was born of that defeat subjugated all the native, so-called pre-Columbian peoples – whether they were allies or enemies of the Spanish Crown - resulting in an almost complete loss of their cultures and languages.
In our days, the imperial power is based in the United States of America, whose official language is English. Faithful to the behavioural characteristics of any empire, the English language now imposes its law. Under the influence of English, entire countries or territories have lost – or are in the process of losing – their communicational languages. The Philippines or Puerto Rico are only two examples among many. According to UNESCO, in sub-Saharan Africa, the false prestige accorded to English, French, Portuguese or majority vernacular languages is killing one local mother tongue every two weeks.
It is true that in these times of global communication there is nothing negative in having a lingua franca to facilitate mutual knowledge, but it becomes quite negative if it either consciously or unconsciously transmits the ideology of superiority that characterizes it, and does so by exhibiting its scorn for the “subordinate” languages, i.e., all the others. The superiority complex which always accompanies an imperial or imperially-dependent language is so consubstantial to its essence that today it even happens among Anglophone activists engaged in the struggle for a better world: their media is tangible proof that the writings they publish translated from the “subordinate” languages constitute only an insignificant percentage of their contents. It is not only the fact that translations from English into other languages are so appallingly numerous in comparison, but a problem lies in that the same cannot be said in the opposite direction. We all are culprits of having accepted until now such inequality.
Tlaxcala, the international network of translators for linguistic diversity, is born as a post-modern homage to the unfortunate city-state of the same name which committed the tragic mistake of trusting an empire – the Spanish one – in order to fight against another less powerful one – the Náhua – only to discover too late that nobody should trust empires – none of them – because they use their subordinates only as a lever for their own purposes. The global translators of Tlaxcala seek to redress the lost destiny of the ancient Tlaxcaltecans.
The translators of Tlaxcala believe in otherness, in the goodness of approaching others’ points of view, and for that reason they take the stand of de-imperializing the English language by publishing in all possible languages (including English) the voices of writers, thinkers, cartoonists and activists who nowadays write their original texts in languages that the domineering empire’s influence do not allow to be heard. As well, the translators of Tlaxcala will provide an opportunity for non-English speakers to be exposed to ideas from English language writers who now are on the fringe, or who were only published in really small, hard to find places.
The English language in its position as an apparatus of institutional knowledge functions as a global power structure that presents the world’s languages and cultures in its image and likeness without bothering to seek the permission of the world it purports to represent. The translators of Tlaxcala are convinced that the masters of discourse can be defeated and hope to blur such an apparatus in the faith that the world can become both multipolar and multilingual, as diverse as life itself.
The basis that Tlaxcala uses to select its texts is that they reflect the core values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, aiming for full respect for the rights and dignity of the human person. The translators of Tlaxcala are anti-militarists, anti-imperialists and stand against “neoliberal” corporate globalization. They yearn for peace and equality among all languages and cultures. They believe neither in a clash of civilizations nor in the current imperial crusade against terrorism.
They oppose racism and the building of walls or electrical fences – either physical or linguistic – that prevent the natural free movement and sharing between people and languages on the planet. They seek to promote esteem, recognition and respect for the Other, as well as to express the desire that she/he will cease being an object of History and become its subject, with full equality. This effort is voluntary and free. All the translations carried out by Tlaxcala are produced under Copyleft, i.e. free for reproduction for non-commercial purposes, as long as the source is cited.
Translators and interpreters of all languages, connect yourselves and unite! Webmasters and bloggers of all colors in the rainbow who share our concerns, contact us!
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It is not a coincidence that we have chosen February 21st to publish our Manifesto. During the 1950's, '60's and '70's, February 21st was celebrated as the world anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism day.
"He who in his homeland claims only for himself the earth where his grave will be dug, deserves for his voice be heard and listened to, and moreover, deserves that we place our trust in his words."
Augusto Cesar Sandino was assassinated on February 21st, 1934, in Nicaragua, on the orders of the future dictator Somoza. People used to call him the General of Free Men, and according to the peace agreements he signed the day before his death, he had agreed to withdrawing to a peasants cooperative, in northern Nicaragua.
Sandino is the paradigm that inspires the Nicaraguans’ patriotism, and he symbolizes the spirit of national dignity, with his tenacious resistance against the U.S. military interventions and occupation of his country. His “National Sovereignty Defense Army” gathered peasants and workers who fought against imperialism and dictatorship with machetes, work tools, rusty rifles and bombs made out of tin cans filled with stones and scrap iron. His soldiers were practically able to shoot enemy planes down to the ground with stones and, most of all, they fought by keeping moral values and unlimited love for their country alive against all odds, under the yoke and the joint attacks of the Nicaraguan and U.S. armies – the former being hired by the latter, the power of which was a hundred times greater than that of Sandino’s army. Standing for the humble and exploited people of Nicaragua and Latin America, Sandino heroically proved that peasants can undertake the organization of a victorious resistance for the sake of national independence.
On the same day in 1944, Paris awoke with its walls covered with big red posters that announced the execution at Mount Valérien of 23 “terrorist” members of the Snipers and Partisans-immigrant workers, the first organization of resistance to Nazism in the French territory. The leader of the group, Missak Manouchian, a 36-year-old Armenian, was a survivor of the Armenian genocide, an immigrant. To the French collaborators who attended his summary trial before the Nazi military court, and who labelled him a métèque, Manouchian answered: “You inherited French citizenship, I earned it.”
On February 21st, 1952, tens of thousands of students, intellectuals and working people gathered in Dhaka, then capital of East Pakistan and now of Bangladesh, against the imposition of Urdu as Pakistan's sole national language on Bengalis. As the students tried to march, the police fired and killed four that day and at least seven more in the next two days. The movement then turned into a popular uprising which finally ended with Bangladesh breaking free of Pakistan in 1971 after one of the most vicious ethnic cleansings of the Twentieth Century, supported by the Nixon administration. Since then, the people of Bangladesh observe Ekushey, or February 21st, as Martyrs' Day, pledging to keep alive the rich heritage of Bangla language (Ekush is Bangla for 21, and Ekushey means 21st.). In 2000, UNESCO declared February 21st to be International Mother Language Day as a tribute to the movement.
“The time of martyrs has come, and if I am one of them, it will be for the cause of brotherhood, the only thing that can save this country.”
These were Malcolm X’s last words before being murdered by three members of the Nation of Islam during a meeting in Harlem on February 21st, 1965. Malcolm had left the Nation of Islam in 1963 in order to create the Organization of Afro-American Unity. In April 1966, his assassins were condemned to life imprisonment, but those who plotted his murder – the Masters of the Empire – remained, as usual, unpunished.
Malcolm X, also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, and whose original name was Malcolm Little, was 39. He had returned from a pilgrimage to Mecca, where he discovered universality after meeting pilgrims of all origins. One of the reasons for his break with the Nation of Islam was that it had had contacts with the Ku Klux Klan to discuss the establishment of a black independent State in Southern USA, just as the founder of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, had done in requesting the support of the worst anti-Semites for his project of a Jewish State. For Malcolm, whose father had been a victim of the Ku Klux Klan, such collaboration was unthinkable.
On this day of remembrance we place Tlaxcala under the patronage of those three fighters in the peoples' struggle: Augusto Cesar Sandino, Missak Manouchian and Malcolm X.
Cyberspace, February 21st, 2006, International Mother Language Day