2020 – a year of languages

December 21, 2020

It was supposed to be our 10th anniversary, but this wasn’t a year for celebration. It was a year of doing what we could to continue our work, despite limitations. For many of the communities we work with, it was a year of survival and bravery in the face of crisis.

In January, we worked with the remarkable Comunidades Indigenas en Liderazgo (CIELO) and La Red de Pueblos Transnacionales to put together the weekend-long Taller para Interpretes Indígenas, the first-ever Workshop for Indigenous Interpreters in New York. February brought International Mother Language Day, which we celebrated in style with the NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, launching a series of videos in languages rarely or never before officially represented. Our last public event, in early March, was an exciting exchange between policymakers, map afficionados, historians (and of course a linguist!) at the New York Public Library. Just a week later, we shut down the office and started working remotely.

By April, the city’s multilingual immigrant neighborhoods had become the global epicenter of the pandemic — a crisis caused not only by deep-seated social and economic inequalities, but by failures of language access and translation. Continuing over the course of May and into the summer, we evolved a two-part response: supporting mutual aid efforts especially in the city’s Indigenous communities and commissioning diaries of pandemic lifefrom collaborators in a dozen different language groups, both to document the impact and to get funds directly to the people most impacted by joblessness and hunger. In June, we continued our major push to spread the word about the 2020 Census, with videos we recorded and circulated in languages covered nowhere else. Our NYC coalition made possible an impressive self-response rate, in the face of enormous obstacles.

July was the (virtual) launch of Ladino New York, a small, entirely original video series about Sephardic history in New York, three years in the making. In August, continuing a string of virtual events and classes, we worked with the NYC Department of Health on a unique workshop about language access for Indigenous New Yorkers during the ongoing health emergency, in Spanish with simultaneous translation in varieties of Mixtec, K’iche’, Kichwa, and English. In September, we were grateful for a restorative residency on Governors Island in New York Harbor, a quiet stay modified due to Covid from a packed original schedule.

In October, we compiled recommendations with a Language Access Policy working group made up completely of Indigenous New Yorkers and assisted with several projects around Native American digital language development. Much of November was devoted to writing, including forthcoming articles on Pamiri and Italian languages in diaspora, as well as on the invisibilization of Indigenous languages. This December we’ve been making a big push, building on work all year long to get our digital language map of New York City ready to launch in 2021.

Those are just a few of the highlights. To learn more about everything we’re doing, from in-depth work on particular languages to bigger questions about linguistic diversity, visit our website or our Youtube channel, featuring hundreds of stories in languages from all over the world. Or get in touch!

For 2021, we have big plans, from achive-building to children’s books to a whole new slate of exhibits and events when things reopen. Fingers crossed: maybe we can even celebrate, belatedly, 10 (now almost 11!) years of ELA. We salute all of you, and especially our immigrant and indigenous collaborators, for having persevered during a seemingly endless period of pain and persecution. We desperately look forward to a fresh start in the new year. Hope to see you then!

As always, we’re grateful for your support. Happy Holidays!