Cover: Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America, from Harvard University PressCover: Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America in PAPERBACK

Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America

Listen to Vivek Bald discuss his Bengali Harlem project with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer:

In the final years of the nineteenth century, small groups of Muslim peddlers arrived at Ellis Island every summer, bags heavy with embroidered silks from their home villages in Bengal. The American demand for “Oriental goods” took these migrants on a curious path, from New Jersey’s beach boardwalks into the heart of the segregated South. Two decades later, hundreds of Indian Muslim seamen began jumping ship in New York and Baltimore, escaping the engine rooms of British steamers to find less brutal work onshore. As factory owners sought their labor and anti-Asian immigration laws closed in around them, these men built clandestine networks that stretched from the northeastern waterfront across the industrial Midwest.

The stories of these early working-class migrants vividly contrast with our typical understanding of immigration. Vivek Bald’s meticulous reconstruction reveals a lost history of South Asian sojourning and life-making in the United States. At a time when Asian immigrants were vilified and criminalized, Bengali Muslims quietly became part of some of America’s most iconic neighborhoods of color, from Tremé in New Orleans to Detroit’s Black Bottom, from West Baltimore to Harlem. Many started families with Creole, Puerto Rican, and African American women.

As steel and auto workers in the Midwest, as traders in the South, and as halal hot dog vendors on 125th Street, these immigrants created lives as remarkable as they are unknown. Their stories of ingenuity and intermixture challenge assumptions about assimilation and reveal cross-racial affinities beneath the surface of early twentieth-century America.

Recent News

From Our Blog

Jacket: The Number of the Heavens: A History of the Multiverse and the Quest to Understand the Cosmos, by Tom Siegfried, from Harvard University Press

Q&A with Tom Siegfried, author of The Number of the Heavens: A History of the Multiverse and the Quest to Understand the Cosmos

In The Number of the Heavens, Tom Siegfried, the award-winning former editor of Science News, shows that one of the most fascinating and controversial ideas in contemporary cosmology—the existence of multiple parallel universes—has a long and divisive history that continues to this day. We spoke to him about the possible existence of a multiverse and the co

‘manifold glories of classical Greek and Latin’

The digital Loeb Classical Library (loebclassics.com) extends the founding mission of James Loeb with an interconnected, fully searchable, perpetually growing virtual library of all that is important in Greek and Latin literature.