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Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America

Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America

Vivek Bald
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 268
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  • Book Info
    Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America
    Book Description:

    Nineteenth-century Muslim peddlers arrived at Ellis Island, bags heavy with embroidered silks from their villages in Bengal. Demand for “Oriental goods” took these migrants on a curious path, from New Jersey’s boardwalks into the segregated South. Bald’s history reveals cross-racial affinities below the surface of early twentieth-century America.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06757-8
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Author’s Note
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: Lost in Migration
    (pp. 1-10)

    In March of 1945, two men from India led testimony before the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization of the U.S. Congress.¹ One was a Muslim who had settled in Arizona’s Salt River Valley in the 1910s, where a handful of farmers from the subcontinent had turned hundreds of acres of land toward the production of rice.² The other was a Punjabi Sikh entrepreneur who came to New York City in 1926 and established a business supplying luxury Eastern imports to the city’s elites.³ Both men were lobbying Congress to make East Indians eligible for U.S. citizenship. Their task was...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Out of the East and into the South
    (pp. 11-48)

    Ellis Island was on fire. The grand, three-story immigration station had cost more than $75,000 and had taken almost two years to build. It had been in operation for no more than five and a half years, and now, in the middle of the night of June 15, 1897, a fire had broken out. More than two hundred immigrant detainees were rushed out of the building as the flames spread. Across the water, on the southern tip of Manhattan, fire crews scrambled into action, but before their boats could reach the island, the entire pine structure was engulfed in smoke...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Between Hindoo and Negro
    (pp. 49-93)

    In her 1940 autobiography, A Colored Woman in a White World, suffragist and civil rights activist Mary Church Terrell told the story of a friend who had had a curious experience on a visit to the South. The friend, whom she described as an African American “real estate man who lives in Washington [DC],” had traveled to Charleston, South Carolina, to visit his sister. When he arrived, an exposition was being held and his sister “was very enthusiastic about an East Indian with an unpronounceable name who had astounded the [locals] with his wonderful feats of legerdemain.” The man’s sister...

  7. CHAPTER 3 From Ships’ Holds to Factory Floors
    (pp. 94-136)

    On a Sunday morning at the end of December 1907—a time of year when Hooghly’s peddlers were selling their wares far from the cold Northeast—a different set of Indian Muslim men appeared on the waters of New York Harbor. Several small groups set out in rowboats from piers all over the area—from the east-side and west-side docks of Manhattan and from the waterfronts of Brooklyn, Staten Island, and New Jersey. In the brisk winter morning air, the men rowed south and eastward across New York’s crowded, choppy waterways, weaving past freighters, tramps, schooners, and ferries toward Bush...

  8. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  9. CHAPTER 4 The Travels and Transformations of Amir Haider Khan
    (pp. 137-159)

    By the time an Indian seaman reached the waterfront of New York, Philadelphia, or Baltimore, he had already gone through a kind of transformation. Most had spent their early lives in rural areas far from the ocean before making their way to Calcutta and Bombay. They had often spent months in these cities’ crowded docklands and then weeks, months, or years working at sea in the company of men from their own and other villages and regions, as well as moving in and out of large, bustling, cosmopolitan port cities across the globe—Alexandria, Naples, Tunis, London, Liverpool, Glasgow, Antwerp,...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Bengali Harlem
    (pp. 160-188)

    If you had visited New York City in the spring of 1949, taken in a Broadway show—say, Death of a Salesman or South Pacific—and then happened to stroll along West Forty-Sixth Street looking to grab a meal at one of the neighborhood’s many and varied restaurants, you may well have been tempted up a flight of stairs at number 144 to try the Indian food at the Bengal Garden. The Bengal Garden was one of a handful of Indian restaurants that had popped up in the theater district in recent years. On entering this small, simple, rectangular space,...

  11. CHAPTER 6 The Life and Times of a Multiracial Community
    (pp. 189-214)

    In virtually any major U.S. city today, you will find a commercial block, or several blocks, that are distinctly and visibly South Asian. At the heart of these “Little Indias,” as they are often narrowly called, are usually a mix of businesses owned and run by immigrants from all over the subcontinent: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka. There are South Asian restaurants and snack shops; jewelry stores specializing in gold wedding sets; clothing boutiques selling colorful saris, salvaar kameez, loongis, and dupattas; CD and DVD stores selling the latest Bollywood movies and Punjabi-, Bangla-, Tamil-, Telegu-, Urdu-, and Hindi-language...

  12. Conclusion: Lost Futures
    (pp. 215-230)

    Alaudin Ullah stands on the roof of a fifteen-story apartment block in East Harlem—one of the nine stark red brick towers and four low-rises that comprise the George Washington Carver Houses. Around him in every direction are the rooftops of other buildings, some supporting old wooden water towers, others flat, tarred, and patchy. From this height, there is little hint of the changes that are under way below. His father, Habib Ullah Sr., moved here to the projects in the 1970s from his longtime tenement apartment on 102nd Street, bringing Alaudin, his brother Karim, and their mother, Moheama. Habib’s...

  13. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 231-232)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 233-276)
  15. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 277-282)
  16. Index
    (pp. 283-294)