Sunday 5 June 2011

Former Children's Laureate Condemns Newham's "Act Of Cultural Vandalism"

Following on from my post on Newham council's new 'Building Resilience' strategy, it seems that a number of community groups, led by Asian elders group Ekta and campaigners from Newham Monitoring Project, have been busy building some resilience - or rather resistance - of their own.

Bouncing back from the first example of the new strategy in action, namely Mayor Sir Robin Wales' decision to to remove foreign language newspapers from the borough's libraries because he feels they discourage local people from learning and speaking English, a petition has been launched (download from here). It calls not only for the reinstatement of community-language newspapers but also for more funding for English as a Second Language (ESOL) classes and for the council to "recognise and celebrate the unique diversity of the London Borough of Newham, includes recognition of the languages and cultures of its individual communities".

The campaign has attracted the support of the respected writer, poet and former Children's Laureate Michael Rosen, who works regularly with Newham's schools and with the Newvic Sixth Form Centre. Michael says:

"Removing from Newham libraries newspapers written in languages other than English is an act of cultural vandalism. It deprives people of access to news about their communities and links with their countries of origin. Communities with origins from outside the British Isles make a massive contribution to the life of the UK, its economy and culture and are entitled to express themselves in any language they like. Speaking and writing their own languages doesn't stop them from making those contributions and doesn't stop them from learning English. It is illiterate and ignorant to imagine that migrant communities can't manage to be bi-lingual just because their members speak a language other than English. All over the world, bilingualism is common and normal. In fact, it's a massive skill, enabling cultural and commercial relations to operate well both within and between countries.

From an autobiographical perspective, I can testify that my own origins are founded in bi- and tri-lingualism which was thankfully supported by the local library where books and newspapers in my grandparents' tongue were stocked and heavily used. As a result of the confidence and ease of moving between languages, my parents became the first university educated people in my family.

It is vital for the sake of Newham's cultural and economic vitality to continue to provide newspapers in all the appropriate languages. We all benefit from their presence in our libraries."

To support the campaign contact Prity Patel-Bedia at Newham Monitoring Project.

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