Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America [NOOK Book]


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.
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Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America

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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.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
MIT professor and documentarian Bald vividly recreates the history of South Asian migration to the U.S. from the 1880s through the 1960s. Drawing on ships' logs, census records, marriage documents, local news items, the memoir of an Indian Communist refugee, and interviews with descendants, Bald reconstructs the stories of the Muslim silk peddlers who arrived in 1880s during the fin-de-siècle fascination for Orientalism; the seamen from colonial India who jumped ship at ports along the Eastern seaboard; and the Creole, African-American, and Puerto Rican women they married. Bald persuasively shows how these immigrants provide us with a "different picture of assimilation." Global labor migrants, they did not necessarily come seeking a better way of life, nor did they follow a path of upward mobility. In the cases of the silk peddlers who maintained ties to the subcontinent to obtain their goods, they forged extensive global networks yet also assimilated into black neighborhoods, building multiethnic families and communities at a time of exclusionary immigration laws against Asians. By the 1940s, those who stayed had followed the jobs, becoming auto or steel workers in the Midwest, storekeepers in the South, and hotdog vendors or restaurant workers in Manhattan, and, thanks to their wives, had quietly blended into neighborhoods such as Harlem, West Baltimore, Treme in New Orleans and Black Bottom in Detroit. (Jan.)
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Vivek Bald's work on this untold story is meticulously researched, movingly told, and absolutely timely.
Vijay Prashad
Vivek Bald's Bengali Harlem is a monumental achievement. It brings to life a slice of the U.S. population unknown to the history books: South Asian migrants who came into the United States between the 1890s and the 1940s, making their lives in between African American and migrant spaces. Elegantly assembled, the stories of these migrants and their families are fascinating and heart-rending.
George Lipsitz
Grounded in extraordinary research, Bengali Harlem reveals how South Asians became an integral part of black and Puerto Rican communities in the early years of the twentieth century. Historians of black life, culture, and commerce will never again be able to ignore the South Asian presence in African American communities and families.
Junot Díaz
Vivek Bald's extraordinary account persuasively places these first Bengali migrants at the heart of our multiracial American experience. A virtuoso act of recovery.
New York Times - Sam Roberts
[Bald] has produced an engaging account of a largely untold wave of immigration: Muslims from British India who arrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The National - Richard Pretorius
Bald opens readers eyes to a rarely depicted part of the U.S. melting pot.
Indian Express - Yogendra Yadav
Captur[es] a unique narrative of inter-marriage and inter-ethnic community making in America. - Mini Basu
A revelatory book...Vivek Bald's new book on Bengali migration tells a history that has been largely unknown.
The Telegraph (Calcutta) - Mohua Das
A revelatory account of how the first Bengali migrants quietly merged into America's iconic neighbourhoods.
Mint - Shamik Bag
Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America is a landmark work at exhuming an unknown past of South Asian emigration...It deals in fascinating detail with the little-known narrative of Muslim men travelling from undivided Bengal from the 1880s onwards to seek a living in the U.S.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674070400
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 1/7/2013
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Vivek Bald is Associate Professor of Writing and Digital Media at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is the director of three documentary films: Taxi-vala/Auto-biography, Mutiny: Asians Storm British Music, and In Search of Bengali Harlem (forthcoming). More information can be found at:
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Table of Contents

Author's Note ix

Introduction: Lost in Migration 1

1 Out of the East and into the South 11

2 Between Hindoo and Negro 49

3 From Ships' Holds to Factory Floors 94

4 The Travels and Transformations of Amir Haider Khan 137

5 Bengali Harlem 160

6 The Life and Times of a Multiracial Community 189

Conclusion: Lost Futures 215

List of Abbreviations 231

Notes 233

Acknowledgments 277

Index 283

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2013

    Fascinating US/South Asian history. A must read!

    So much history in the US is never taught or written about. This is a fascinating book detailing the history of Indian traders in the US in the 1800s. It is well written.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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