A Special Edition of A.C.T.O.R.: Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America, Reading and Conversation with Author and Filmmaker Vivek Bald
for more information about the book and film!
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 Trem_ 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.
?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 D?az, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and This is How You Lose Her
A.C.T.O.R. is a monthly Busboys and Poets produced discussion series that provides the opportunity for people to come together and speak openly and honestly about issues of race. The intent is that each person walks away from the discussion feeling something: challenged, educated, uncomfortable, enlightened, refreshed, reassured and hopefully inspired and moved to action! Regular discussions take place on the first Sunday of every month at 14th & V (5pm) with a new topic and Busboys and Poets-sponsored facilitator.