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TLAXCALA, The Translators’ Network for Linguistic Diversity. Tlaxcala's Manifesto.

Tlaxcala, the network for linguistic diversity, was founded on December 2005 by a small group of cyberactivists who knew one another through Internet and discovered that they shared common interests, common dreams and common problems. The network quickly grew, has today […] members, and translates into [...] languages. This Manifesto, approved by them all, expresses their common philosophy:

All languages of the world must, and do contribute to the brotherhood of mankind. Contrary to what many people used to believe, a language is not only a grammatical structure, a set of interconnected words, in agreement with a syntactic code, but also, and especially, a creation of meaning based upon our senses. Thus we observe, interpret and express our world from a specific personal, geographical and political context. Because of this, no language is neutral, and they all carry the “genetic code”, the imprint of the cultures to which they belong. Latin, the first imperial language, reached its high point by trampling on the remains of the languages it destroyed as the Roman legions extended their presence to the south of Europe, the north of Africa and the Middle East. It is not strange if at the beginning of the Renaissance it was the Spanish language, a genetic daughter of Latin, which brought about new devastation, this time among the conquered peoples of the American continent.

An empire and its language always go together and are predators by definition. They reject otherness. Any imperial language constitutes itself as the subject of History, narrates it from its point of view and annihilates (or tries to do so) the points of view of languages it considers inferior. The official History of any empire is never innocent, but motivated by the zeal to justify yesterday’s acts today in order to project its own version upon tomorrow.

Nobody knows what suffering the peoples conquered by the Roman Empire endured, since there is no written record of their defeat, which meant the disappearance of their cultures. Conversely, the languages of the American continent conquered by the Spanish Empire left their testimony. Towards the second half of the 16th Century, shortly after the conquest of Mexico, Brother Bernardino de Sahagún assembled what it is known today as The Florentine Codex, a mixture of Náhua tales (Náhuatl is the language of the most ancient Aztecs, still spoken in Mexico) and pictorial illustrations that describe pre-Hispanic society and culture. The second testimony, which contradicts the first one, is The Lienzo de Tlaxcala, also transcribed during the 16th Century by the mixed race Diego Muñoz de Camargo, who based his story upon the fresco paintings by his ancestors – the Tlaxcaltecan nobility – who described in images both Hernán Cortés’s arrival and the fall of Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire, destroyed by the Conquistadors who replaced it with the city of Mexico. Tlaxcala was at the time the Tenochtitlan Aztec empire’s rival city-state and aided Cortés in destroying it, an attitude that was akin to drawing up its own death sentence, since the new Spanish Empire which was born of that defeat subjugated all the native, so-called pre-Columbian peoples – whether they were allies or enemies of the Spanish Crown, resulting in an almost complete loss of their cultures and languages.

In our days, the imperial power is based in the United States of America, whose official language is English. Faithful to the behavioural characteristics of any empire, the English language now imposes its law. Under the influence of English, entire countries or territories have lost – or are in the process of losing – their communicational languages. The Philippines or Puerto Rico are only two examples among many. In sub-Saharan Africa the false prestige accorded to English, French, Portuguese or majority vernacular languages is killing one local mother tongue every two weeks according to UNESCO.

It is true that in these times of global communication there is nothing negative in having a lingua franca to facilitate mutual knowledge, but it becomes quite negative if it either consciously or unconsciously transmits the ideology of superiority that characterizes it, and does so by exhibiting its scorn for the “subordinate” languages, i.e., all the others. The superiority complex which always accompanies an imperial or imperially-dependent language is so consubstantial to its essence that today it even happens among Anglophone activists engaged in the struggle for a better world: their media is a tangible proof that the writings they publish translated from the “subordinate” languages constitute only an insignificant percentage of their contents. It is not only the fact that translations from English into other languages are so appallingly numerous in comparison, but a problem lies in that the same cannot be said in the opposite direction. We all are culprits of having accepted until now such inequality.

Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity, is born as a post-modern homage to the unfortunate city-state of the same name which committed the tragic mistake of trusting an empire – the Spanish one – in order to fight against another less powerful one – the Náhua – just to find out only too late that nobody should trust empires – none of them – because they use their subordinates only as a lever for their own purposes. The global translators of Tlaxcala seek to redress the ancient Tlaxcaltecan’s lost destiny.

The translators of Tlaxcala believe in otherness, in the goodness of approaching others’ points of view, and for that reason they take the stand to de-imperialise the English language by publishing in all possible languages (including English) the voices of writers, thinkers, cartoonists and activists who nowadays write their original texts in languages that the domineering empire’s influence do not permit to be heard. As well, the translators of Tlaxcala will allow non-English speakers to be exposed to ideas from English language writers who now are on the fringe, or who were published in really small, really hard to find places.

The English language in its position of institutional apparatus of knowledge functions as a global structure of power that presents the world’s languages and cultures in its image and likeness without bothering to seek the permission of the world it purports to represent. The translators of Tlaxcala are convinced that the masters of discourse can be defeated and hope to blur such an apparatus in the faith that the world becomes both multipolar and multilingual, as diverse as life itself.

The basis that Tlaxcala uses for text selection is that it reflects the core values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, aiming for full respect for the rights and dignity of the human person. The translators of Tlaxcala are anti-militarists, anti-imperialists and stand against “neoliberal” corporate globalisation. They yearn for peace and equality among all languages and cultures. They believe neither in a clash of civilisations nor in the current imperial crusade against terrorism. They oppose racism and the building of walls or electrical fences – either physical or linguistic – that prevent the natural free movement and sharing between people and languages on the planet. They seek to promote esteem, recognition and respect for the Other, as well as to express the desire that she/he ceases to be an object of History and becomes a subject of it with full equality. This effort is voluntary and free. All the translations carried out by Tlaxcala are on Copyleft, i.e. free for reproduction for non-commercial purposes, as long as the source is cited.

Translators and interpreters of all languages, connect yourselves and unite! Webmasters and bloggers of all colours in the rainbow who share our concerns, contact us!

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It is not a coincidence that we have chosen the date of 21 Februry to make our Manifesto public. During the years of the 50's, 60's and 70's, 21 February was celebrated as the world anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism day.

On that day in 1944, Paris awoke with its walls covered with big red posters that announced the execution at Mount Valérien of 23 “terrorist” members of the Snipers and Partisans-immigrant workers, the first organization of resistance to Nazism in the French territory. The leader of the group, Missak Manouchian, a 36-year-old Armenian, was a survivor of the Armenian genocide, an immigrant. To the French collaborators who attended his summary trial before the Nazi military court, and who labelled him a métèque, Manouchian answered: “You inherited French citizenship, I earned it.”

“The time of martyrs has come, and if I am one of them, it will be for the cause of brotherhood, the only thing that can save this country.” These were Malcolm X’s last words before being murdered during a meeting in Harlem on 21st February 1965 by three members of the Nation of Islam, which Malcolm had left in 1963 in order to create the Organization of the Afro-American Unity. In April 1966, his assassins were condemned to life imprisonment, but those who plotted his murder - the Masters of the Empire – remained, as in most cases, unpunished.

Malcolm X, alias El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, whose original name was Malcolm Little, was 39. He had returned from a pilgrimage to Mecca, where he discovered universality after meeting pilgrims of all origins. One of the reasons of his breaking with the Nation of Islam was that it had had contacts with the Ku Klux Klan to discuss the establishment of a black independent State in Southern USA, just as the founder of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, had done in requesting the support of the worst anti-Semites for his project of a Jewish State. For Malcolm, whose father had been a victim of the Ku Klux Klan, such collaboration was unthinkable.

On this day of remembrance we put Tlaxcala under the patronage of those two fighters for the struggle of peoples, Missak Manouchian and Malcolm X.
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