Legco visit signifies progress
The Legislative Council's chamber has seen a spectrum of political drama, from unruliness and impassioned debate, to snoozing officials.
But for the Bangladesh Association of Hong Kong, the highlight will always be the time they visited as guests of Tsang Yok-sing, the Legco president.
Association president Dewan Saiful Alam Masud says the invite came about because of the links the Bangladeshi community built with government departments and district council committees.
'Tsang Yok-sing visited the weekend school where Bangladeshi is taught after we requested the district council give us a bigger place before we rented a classroom,' Masud says. 'The Legco president wanted to see our activities and invited the community to visit the Legco chamber last September.'
The association is now able to use larger facilities at a government-run recreation building in Jordan to hold Bangla language lessons, classes in traditional dance and other educational activities, including Cantonese lessons, but leaders are still lobbying for dedicated facilities to be provided.
Masud says integration of Bangladeshis and their families into Hong Kong is a priority, but it is also important that children are made aware of their culture. He says the association wants to buy its own facilities or have access to the type of centres the Indian and Pakistan associations have.
The Legco visit last September saw association leaders and youngsters being given a tour of the chamber by Tsang, whose job, among other duties, is to keep order during debates and legislative proceedings.
The Legco president says: 'I appreciate the centre's enthusiasm in encouraging cultural affinity among local Bangladeshis, and sincerely hope that it will act as a bridge between their compatriots and people of different races in the territory.'
From being a group of people who gathered to ensure cultural traditions were passed down to their children, and shared with the rest of Hong Kong, the association's connection with legislators is a sign that its members are starting to have some political sway.
As committee members are also making contact with the Equal Opportunities Commission, government officials and race relations bodies, in addition to organising cultural events, it was decided last year that the Bangladesh Cultural Centre's name should change to Bangladesh Association of Hong Kong.
'It represents the wider activities we are involved in, as it's not limited to culture,' Masud says.
'We're working with NGOs [non-governmental organisations], district councils and others. The scope is much wider now. We are working towards more integration and close ties with Hongkongers and fellow ethnic communities. We are meeting with Yau Tsim Mong District Council, which has set up ethnic liaison committees.'
The coming weeks will see the community celebrating national day with concerts featuring dancers taught at the Saturday afternoon classes in Jordan, including a gala at a theatre in Hung Hom to which Legco members and Equal Opportunities Commission officials have been invited.
Another highlight will be the Bangladesh fair at the Municipal Services Building in Jordan on April 17, when the association will be making use of the basketball court to set up stalls showcasing Bangladeshi produce.
Perhaps the most important event in the community calendar is February 21, which has been designated by Unesco as International Mother Language Day. The date has its roots in the movement that resisted the imposition of Urdu on Bangalees before independence. This helps explain the importance vested by the community in preserving language, culture and heritage.
'Hong Kong-Bangladesh relations are growing, with more opportunities for business and more Chinese investment,' Masud says, adding that community leaders have been meeting to form a Bangladeshi chamber of commerce, which he hopes will be established with a full constitution by the end of the year.