Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America
Harvard University Press
In 1897, 12 Muslim merchants from Kolkota and Hooghly, West Bengal, made their way to the United States, hoping to sell silk and cotton products at the beach resorts of New Jersey. After being held in detention for eight days, they were deported, as officials declared that they were in violation of labour law.
Remarkably, within a year or two, most of the men made their way back to America. becoming part of what author Vivek Bald calls the "first significant settlement of South Asians in the United States".
In his meticulously researched book, Bald traces this migration of Bengali Muslims in the days of segregation and anti-Asian US immigration policies.
We learn how the Bengalis did not form ethnic enclaves like many immigrants to America in hopes of a better life.
Instead, they found homes in well-known neighbourhoods of colour: Treme in New Orleans, West Baltimore and Harlem. Some would start families with Creole, Puerto Rican and African-American women.
In vividly telling their story, Bald opens readers eyes to a rarely depicted part of the US melting pot.