Endangered Language Alliance


Ancient wisdom for modern crises

As is plain to see, it has been a tumultuous few weeks here in New York City. We take this opportunity to stand with the many other non-profit organizations, institutions and individuals around the country who have expressed their shock and dismay at recent events. We will repeat what has already been declared so many times: immigrants and refugees are the economic and cultural bedrock of this city. There simply is no NYC without immigrants and refugees.

We have been striving for the last 8 years to bring to light the cultural and intellectual contributions of NYC’s smallest linguistic communities. These communities are made up of documented and undocumented immigrants as well as refugees from all over the world. Some of our collaborators have come here fleeing genocide and others have escaped impossible economic conditions brought on by globalization and even climate change. Many of them are indigenous Americans and the inheritors of a colonial history that plundered their cultures and livelihoods. We believe they are the best of New York and their presence here, in turn, represents the best aspects of this country. Yet they are now collectively under attack by factions who wish to portray them as opportunists and security threats.

In this increasingly uncertain time, we can take mild consolation in knowing that history has seen worse. Indeed, the following Neo-Aramaic proverbs recorded with one of our collaborators from Iraq some years ago seem very apt for our current situation. We hope that the ancient wisdom preserved here can help inoculate us from the further shock and awe awaiting us in the weeks, months and years to come. They may try to take away our rights but they can’t take away our sense of humor. With that said, enjoy the United States of 2017 from an Aramaic perspective.

He came with the following simple philosophy: He who doesn’t have a dime isn’t worth a dime.

This is surely but a bluff, thought the people. After all, There are men who are men and there are men who are full of manure.

But the wheels were now in motion, and He who puts his hand on a plow doesn’t look back.

Not a week had passed and suddenly it seemed clear that, The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.

What guides this donkey? asked the masses, perplexed.

Orders made in secret and given without notice, but injustice cannot be hidden: Those who get pregnant in the basement, give birth on the roof.

The people have mobilized – taking to the streets, capitols and airports: Exhaust your feet so you won’t harm your heart!

A chief strategist was sent on the offensive, declaring: If you don’t see with your eyes or touch with your hands, don’t talk!

And while they succeed in driving some to the shadows, let us not forget: He who knocks on the door of others will get his door knocked.

And if nothing else works, there’s always the consolation of last resort: If it doesn’t get destroyed, it doesn’t get reconstructed.

The relief represents the evil-eye watching over the Shrine of Hatra, in Hatra, Iraq.

The relief represents the evil-eye watching over the Shrine of Hatra, in Hatra, Iraq.

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