Vivek Bald: Bengali Harlem
While the assumption about South Asian American immigration tends to follow the wave of Punjabi Sikh immigrants in California during the 1920s or the larger wave of Indian immigrants during the 1960s and 1970s, a greater story recently emerged: Vivek Bald, scholar at MIT published the history of Bengali immigrants in New York during the 1940s that until now, was hardly known, in Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America.
He first came to learn of these tales from his good friend and one-man-show performer, Aladdin Ullah. Aladdin’s father was one of these immigrants and used to regale stories communities of color coming together in unexpected ways: celebrating Ramadan and Eid across community lines, creating clubs for South Asian maritime workers, and organizing the seeds of the Ghadar Party, one of the initial revolutionary parties responsible for India’s Independence movement.
Since the publication of his book, Vivek Bald has also set up an online archive for descendants of Bengali Harlem to include their stories. He and Aladdin Ullah are also developing a documentary film on Ullah’s family and their Bengali Harlem community.
While presenting at various Asian American studies conferences in the Pacific northwest, he stopped by KBOO back in April to chat with me for APA Compass.
Air date: 10/4/2013