MIT Scholar Vivek Bald uncovers forgotten history of South Asian immigrants’ New York City arrival

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Asian Diaspora, History, Media Archive, United States on 2013-04-07 02:36Z by Steven

MIT Scholar Vivek Bald uncovers forgotten history of South Asian immigrants’ New York City arrival

New York Daily News

Erica Pearson

New book chronicles little-known story of Muslims from what’s now Pakistan and Bangladesh, who built a multiracial community in Harlem decades before they were legally allowed to immigrate to the U.S.

Virtually all Asian immigration to the U.S. was banned when Aladdin Ullah’s father — who left East Bengal to work on a British steamer — jumped ship in the 1920s and settled in New York.

Like hundreds of other Muslim sailors at the time, he found a home in Harlem — marrying a Puerto Rican woman and opening one of the city’s first Indian restaurants. He stayed there until his death in 1983.

“I see, now that I’m older, he kind of romanticized what Harlem was to him,” said Ullah, 44, a comedian and playwright who grew up in the George Washington Carver Houses.

“I think my father looked at Harlem as where, ‘Here is where people greet you, These people embraced me for what I am.’ ”

Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and filmmaker Vivek Bald, is the author of “Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America,” published this month by Harvard University Press.

Bald believes Ullah’s family is the last in East Harlem with a direct connection to a little-documented community that thrived decades before the first large waves of South Asian immigration to the U.S…

… In many ways, the histories of these early immigrants became lost because they were forced into the shadows, Bald said. Race-based immigration laws — starting with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and extending until the quota system was overhauled in 1965 — made their presence illegal.

“If you were an Asian person, with very few exceptions you were legally barred from entering the U.S. like other immigrants,” said Bald. “You were not deemed fit to become a citizen, and in many states you could not legally own property.”

But in Harlem, Bengali immigrants married into African-American and Puerto Rican families and found jobs as doormen or dishwashers. In the 1940s, Bengali vendors sold hotdogs from carts along Madison, Lexington and Third Aves…

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