By Marivir Montebon
New York City — Grace Baldisseri paints a beautiful picture of her village in our minds, in her poem In My Village, translated in three ethnic languages (Tagalog, Ilocano, and Ibanag) obscured by modernity.
Life is beautiful in my village
Everybody knows everyone here
No one takes drugs, no one is robbed
In my village, we believe in God
There is so much joy when we get together
The youth sing as they jam and share
Moms and dads show their dancing skills
Waltz, swing, tango, cha-cha and twists
Here is a place where dwells love and peace
A place to relax and enjoy the breeze
In my village, we pamper our guest
Life here is awesome and full of zest
This writer teacher from New Jersey, perhaps the only Ibanag poet in the US, is among the artists featured in a cultural-artistic gathering at the City Lore Gallery in lower Manhattan, “Mother Tongues: Endangered Languages in NYC and Beyond.”
Baldisseri, a Filipina with Ilocano, Tagalog, and Ibanag roots, published a poetry book, Rhythms of the Heart, which contains the poem In My Village and a collection of 42 others. A poetry ambassador, Baldisseri has read her poem Comfort Women and In My Village at the United Nations conferences on indigenous peoples and women.
New York is home to about 800 languages which are highly endangered and the Endangered Language Alliance (ELA) is
coordinating with communities and government to preserve and promote these languages. It has worked with the Bowery Arts and Science, the City Lore, and the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs and the New York State Council on the Arts in this preservation effort.
Other stunning performers shared songs and community poetry too. Salieu Suso of Gambia in western Africa played Mandinke, Fulani, and Wolof songs from his kora, a traditional stringed harp.
Suso is reputed as a Griot or djeli – poet or storyteller – and has been an official MUNY artist since 2007.
Six-year-old Dahlia Kaufman performed “Leleng”, a dance of the Nagju Dayak people of Central Kalimantan in Indonesia, accompanied by a traditional Bornean flute called sampe.
Dahlia is the youngest member of the Saung Budaya, an Indonesian dance troupe in NYC. She is the daughter of linguist (specializing in Tagalog, Nilo-Saharan, and Arawakan languages) Daniel Kaufman who is also co-founder of ELA.
The older Kaufman read the People’s Khonsay together with Bob Holman, the founder of the Bowery Poetry Club and organizer of the event. Khonsay is a poetry in motion, with spoken lines of indigenous languages all over the world that are endangered of extinction.
Here are some beautiful lines from a world poetry, which admittedly, the English translation alone cannot do justice to its aesthetics and depth:
Ch’a tlákwdáx si.áat, tlél ch’as yá táakw
It didn’t just start yesterday
Nora Marks Dauenhauer (Tlingit, U.S.)
Li’ to bu nakal le jme’tike
Come to the source of the word
Alberto Gómez Pérez (Tsotsil, Mexico)
Ni eiya yaahni
You breathe earth sky
Rex Lee Jim (Navajo, U.S.)
Mapia y pattolay tawe ta ili mi, cunnasi maggarammammu kami
Life is beautiful in my village, everybody knows everyone here
Grace G. Baldisseri (Ibanag, Philippines)
Yng nghegin gefn ei dŷ mae’n cadw cenedl
In the back kitchen of his house he keeps a nation
V Bobi Jones (Welsh, Wales)
The sons of bitterness are here, they wear their hats
Traditional (Nakhi, China)
Desten nou Se pa pou nou fini mal
Our destiny is not to have an unfortunate end.
Denize Lauture (Haitian Creole, Haiti)
Towards the end of the event, singer James Lovell taught the audience a Garifuna song, which for majority who were first timers in belting those beautiful but strange lyrics, was actually music to the ears.