PATERSON, NJ - Much of Paterson’s former glory can be attributed to the growth of textile mills that once employed a large swath of local residents. For decades industry, fueled by the Great Falls, brought waves of immigrants to the city, including Bangladeshis that started arriving in the 1930s.

Nearly a century later, a large part of the Diaspora from that South Asian country continue to call Paterson home, adding to the vibrancy and playing an outsized role in the cultural diversity that many hail as one of the cornerstone’s of the city’s nascent renaissance.

On Saturday, February 22, members of the Bangladeshi community filled the Paterson Museum to celebrate the opening of the second annual art show celebrating the community that continues to grow in influence. Hosted by the Bangladeshi American Women’s Development Initiative (BAWDI) in partnership, with the Paterson Museum, the event, which also featured a fashion show, was held to commemorate Mother Language Day, a day proclaimed by the United Nations in 1999 to help preserve the native tongues of nations across the globe. 

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While naysayers will suggest that once an immigrant moves to a new country they should learn the new language, scholar and educator Khyati Joshi told those gathered that holding on to one’s original language is vital.

By maintaining one’s language, the Fairleigh Dickinson professor said, immigrants benefit by having a “positive ethnic identity,” something that in a multicultural community, like Paterson, “increases self-esteem.”

Also on hand to celebrate the occasion was Mayor Andre Sayegh. Referring to the display of Bangladeshi attire as a “parade of pageantry,” the city’s top elected official repeated a vow he has offered several times before to help make sure all groups that call Paterson home have a chance to maintain “cultural connections” to their countries of origin.

Taking a short break from her duties behind the podium Amber Huq, a board member of BAWDI as well as the first female Bangladeshi native to be appointed to a board or commission in Paterson, said that the event was an opportunity to overcome the common obstacle of women “being pushed to the back.”

“This is about being inclusive,” Huq stated. “Of all people.”

The display at the Paterson Museum will remain until March 29.

Launched in 2015 BAWDI is committed to helping the Bangladeshi community of Paterson to grow with self-confidence, self awareness and become ideal citizens.

 

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