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Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America Hardcover – January 7, 2013


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (January 7, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674066669
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674066663
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #250,381 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

Vivek Bald's work on this untold story is meticulously researched, movingly told, and absolutely timely. (Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, author of An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization)

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. (Vijay Prashad, author of Uncle Swami: South Asians in America Today)

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. (George Lipsitz, author of How Racism Takes Place)

Vivek Bald's extraordinary account persuasively places these first Bengali migrants at the heart of our multiracial American experience. A virtuoso act of recovery. (Junot Díaz, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao)

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. (Publishers Weekly (starred review) 2012-11-02)

[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. (Sam Roberts New York Times 2012-12-29)

Bald opens readers eyes to a rarely depicted part of the U.S. melting pot. (Richard Pretorius The National 2013-02-02)

Captur[es] a unique narrative of inter-marriage and inter-ethnic community making in America. (Yogendra Yadav Indian Express 2013-01-29)

A revelatory book...Vivek Bald's new book on Bengali migration tells a history that has been largely unknown. (Mini Basu CNN.com 2013-02-14)

A revelatory account of how the first Bengali migrants quietly merged into America's iconic neighbourhoods. (Mohua Das The Telegraph (Calcutta) 2013-03-19)

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. (Shamik Bag Mint 2013-06-08)

About 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: http://bengaliharlem.com.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Good book with extensive documentation.
Amazon Customer
I would recommend to any reader, whether it be for a class or for leisure.
AceOne
It was hard to put the book down once I began reading it.
C. T. Sen

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By C. T. Sen on December 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a splendid, beautifully written book about a little known early immigrant community. I had heard about Bengali immigrants in Harlem (and ate at their restaurants when I was a student at Columbia University) but had no idea they had such a presence in the south. It was hard to put the book down once I began reading it.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Mohammad A. Karim on February 18, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
It was the result of painstaking research that took many years to complete. It covers an area that was hardly explored before this ever so thoroughly. It talks and reveals of two streams of people (exclusively Bangla-speaking Muslims from South Asia) who came to America. They come from families who were, in many cases, victims of loan sharks and landlords of Bengal who were milking them with direct support of the English Shahibs. The same Shahibs and their local zamindars were instrumental in stopping them from producing prized Muslin (in favor of Manchester clothes) and food (in favor of dyes, indigo, and drug). The first group are those Bengali Muslims from Hoogly area (just north of Calcutta port) who came during 1885-2005 as peddlers of "embroidered chikans" and other interesting goodies. Many of these peddlers would go back and forth bringing in their goodies. They would be followed next (until about 1925 or so) by braver people from far away Sylhet and Noakhali - the ship-jumpers, who would be working on the ships, changing jobs, changing ships, and changing oceans until they would be bound for America. This latter group would often rely on the first group and many others from other nations who had already joined American industrial underclass. During the past 35 years, I had the fortune of meeting fellow-travellers, childern and granchildren of these ship jumpers. I am so pleased to read this wonderful book.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By S. Nadia Hussain on January 17, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I have known about Vivek and Alaudin's efforts to put out a book and documentary on the early Bangladeshi community for almost 8 years now. When I found out that this book was finally being published, I was super excited and overwhelmed with emotion. One of my family members was the first Bangladeshi man in NYC, his story has been lore in my family and I was fortunate to meet him one last time before he passed. This is a great history book outlining the experience and journeys of a community that had been lost to history. Any person interested in history, immigration, US history and South Asian communities etc. will be hooked by this book. For me however, the connection to this book goes beyond that. it is the story of my family, a history I have never seen written down. It was an amazing and surreal experience to read about my loved ones as I turned the pages. I have lost all of them, my last surviving grand uncle in NYC passed away a few years ago, but this book keeps them alive. So I highly recommend this book, I promise that you will learn things you never knew, but also realize that these histories mean so much to people who now have a deeper connection to their roots and heritage here in the United States.
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