ELA on the Google Cultural Institute

We’re excited to announce that we’re partnering with Google Cultural Institute to launch online exhibits of some of our projects. Through this new platform, we can bring even more photos, videos, audio, and information to you in a format that’s made to feel as if you’re exploring an exhibit at a museum.

Below is a preview of our first exhibit, Mother Tongues, a photography series created by Yuri Marder in collaboration with ELA and with support from the National Endowment of the Arts. The exhibit features photographs of endangered language speakers in New York, along with recordings and information about their languages.

Visit the full exhibit here.


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¡Conozca sus derechos! (Know your rights)

ELA is proud to announce a new series of videos —“¡Conozca sus derechos!” (Know your rights!) — that respond to the new threats that immigrants and refugee communities are facing. Now more than ever, it’s vital that speakers of endangered languages know their rights and aren’t left out of the conversation. Our first four videos are in NahuatlKi’che’Totonac, and Tlapanec — all indigenous languages of the Americas that are now spoken in New York and other parts of the U.S., as well as in Mexico and Central America.

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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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Election day eve

As a registered non-profit organization, ELA cannot endorse political candidates, nor did we want to add to the ceaseless chatter during what felt like an eternal campaign here in the US. But there have been some points that we cannot in good conscience ignore without comment. In particular, one campaign has ruthlessly targeted Mexican immigrants as the root of this country’s economic problems. It would be cowardly, even at this late juncture, for us not to publicly defend our many indigenous Mexican collaborators who are among the first peoples of this continent and who have suffered untold horrors at the hands of a wide variety of malefactors, from the conquistadors to a neighbor who portrays them as the worst kinds of criminals while they merely struggle to survive.

It is no exaggeration that the multi-billion dollar service economy of New York City stays afloat largely on the back of indigenous Mexican labor under some of the worst working conditions in the US.

It is important to consider how and why our indigenous friends from Mexico and Guatemala ended up working in these conditions so far away from home.

After thousands of years of thriving agriculture, farming in Mexico has ceased to provide a viable livelihood. Climate change, overuse of fertilizers and pesticides, trade treaties such as NAFTA, the imposition of GMOs, and now gun violence from drug wars, have all conspired to make life unlivable. Sadly, every one of these destabilizing factors has been largely, if not completely, introduced from the North.

Mahmoud Darwish’s ‘On man’, could have just as well been written for those who have been savaged by one man’s campaign this election season:

They gagged his mouth,
Bound his hands to the rock of the dead
And said: Murderer!
They took his food, clothes and banners,
Cast him into the condemned cell
And said: Thief!
They drove him away from every port,
Took his young sweetheart,
Then said: Refugee!

As the Sioux and their allies are fighting to put an end to the theft of their land at Standing Rock at this very moment, it is important that we think about the displacement of indigenous people in its widest context this election day. This should include condemning the demonization of indigenous immigrants.

Our friend and collaborator, Zenaida Cantu, Me’phaa poet, sums it up best:

Ri mbrutu ika mbo ahun
gwa’da tsitsiya magajnu gini

Discrimination is the only weapon the mediocre can use to excel!

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A New Language Map of Queens!

We’re thrilled to share “Mother Tongues and Queens” — a language map of the world’s languages capital!


The map shows NYC’s linguistic diversity in more detail than ever before, reflecting ELA’s work over the last 6 years.

The map is featured in the fabulous, just-released “Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas” edited by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, and was part of an exhibit at the Queens Museum. Thanks to Molly Roy for the cartography and Mirissa Neff for the photographs!

We’re currently planning maps of the other boroughs — get in touch if you want to help out!

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Breton-Garifuna Musical Magic


Through the initiative of Breizh Amerika founder, Charles Kergaravat, a unique musical collaboration between Breton and Garifuna musicians entitled the Breizh Amerika Collective has put forth a striking new album “Asambles. Uwarani. Together”. Trust us, you’ve never heard anything like it.

Help support endangered musical cultures in New York and around the world. Donate $25 or more to ELA (tax-deductible) and mention ‘CD’ in the comments to get a free copy

Listen to a preview of “Asambles. Uwarani. Together” here:

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Voices of the Himalayas

Over the last several months, led by project coordinator Nawang Tsering Gurung — originally from Mustang, Nepal and now living in Queens — ELA has launched Voices of the Himalayas, a new project exploring the lived experiences of migration and social change among Himalayan New Yorkers. The aim is to document the languages, cultures, social histories, folklore, and community life of indigenous people in collaboration with community members and scholars of the Himalayan region. This is one of New York’s newest and fastest-growing immigrant and refugee communities, where a wide variety of little-documented and endangered languages are spoken.

Check out our first three videos, featuring the life stories of three women who have made the journey from the Himalayas to New York:

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The World in Words: From Ainu to Zaza

On Tuesday June 21 at 6:30 pm, come listen in on a live podcast taping, featuring ELA and The World in Words at the New York Public Library, one of the world’s great research institutions, with materials on over 430 languages.

The hosts of The World in Words, Patrick Cox and Nina Porzucki, will explore what’s happening to endangered languages from Ainu to Zaza. Why do languages become endangered, and how have some speakers worked to ensure a future for their native tongues?

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Endangered Languages at the Queens Museum

ELA is collaborating with the Queens Museum, at the center of one of the most linguistically diverse places on earth, on two exhibits and a series of public events. This Saturday June 11, from 2 to 4 pm, “Languages Lost and Found: A Roundtable” will feature writers, translators, linguists and practitioners discussing language endangerment, revitalization and multilingualism in both a local (New York) and global context.

While you’re there, check out The Garden of Forked Tongues, a giant mural created by artist Mariam Ghani based on ELA data, in which each of the 59 polygons on the wall represents an endangered language spoken in Queens. Just a gallery over is Mother Tongues, a series of portraits of endangered language speakers by Yuri Marder.

On May 29, ELA hosted its day-long open recording session at the museum, recoriding interviews in Hokkien, Cantonese, Kichwa, Tibetan, Nepali, Mustangi, Tamang, Tashelhiyt, and Southern Zaza, not to mention Spanish and English (about language issues). We talked to devout Buddhists, political refugees, visitors from Malaysia, and a career translator for the NY state supreme court, among others.

Queens Language Mural


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Hawaiian and Quechua Classes at ELA!

A new introductory Hawaiian class, starting this Thursday night, June 9 and continuing every Thursday night in June from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm!

ʻO ke alelo ka hoeuli. The tongue is the steering paddle of the words uttered by the mouth. In celebration of Hōkūleʻa’s World Wide Voyage named “Mālama Honua,” Ka Leo Nūioka and launching its new introductory Hawaiian language course, taught by Kainoa Embernate — and ELA is proud to be hosting it.

Hawaiian, the indigenous language of Hawaiʻi, is linked historically to languages across the Pacific and the Indian Ocean, from Madagascar to Easter Island. The language is actively being revived by thousands of speakers.

Learn more and sign up HERE.

ELA frequently helps organize and host inexpensive classes in languages that are rarely, if ever, taught. All classes are taught by native speakers now living in New York and are aimed at beginners. Students typically include both members of the community seeking to revitalize the language and others who are simply interested in learning a fascinating language.

We are also currently hosting Peruvian Quechua classes on Thursday evenings, continuing through June — more info here. Past classes have featured Breton, a Celtic language of northwest France; K’iche’, a Mayan language of Guatemala, led by Leobardo Ajtzalam; Kichwa (Ecuadorian Quechua), led by Atik Paway; and Nahuatl, an Uto-Aztecan language of Mexico.

Quechua class

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