Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America


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.

Anyone who now thinks Britain is too multicultural?

The anti-immigration squad must have found Golden Saturday a bit awkward

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown
Sunday 05 August 2012
Union Jack, Britain, Flag, Olympics
Jesus! More multicultural crap! More bleedin’ foreigners winning our medals! Even cheering with indecent enthusiasm for Team GB! Who the hell do they think they are? And what the hell happened to this great nation? Tory MP Aidan Burley, an immigrant from New Zealand, dissed Danny Boyle’s inclusive opening ceremony in a tweet. By now he must be spitting his (probably whitened) teeth. So too the risible journos who’ve been whinging about “plastic Brits” in the team, an obnoxious term invented for competitors not born in the UK. Like the South African Zola Budd, a white athlete who, during Apartheid, was given British nationality so she could run for Britain. The Daily Mail made it all happen for that “plastic Brit”. But today intolerant right-wingers question the motives of non-indigenous sportspeople and are furious they have been chosen to represent the UK. Continue reading “Anyone who now thinks Britain is too multicultural?”

Exhibition and grant opportunity

The Open Society Foundations invite photographers to submit a body of work for consideration in the Moving Walls 20 group exhibition, scheduled to open in New York in early 2013. For the 2012 production grant, scroll to the bottom.

The Moving Walls exhibition series showcases documentary photography that highlights human rights and social issues that coincide with the Open Society Foundations? mission. Moving Walls is exhibited at our offices in New York and Washington, D.C.
Launched in 1998, Moving Walls has featured over 175 photographers. Over the past 14 years, we have been proud to support the brave and difficult (and often self-funded) work that photographers undertake globally in their visual documentation of complex social and political issues. Their images provide the world with evidence of human rights abuses, put faces onto a conflict, document the struggles and defiance of marginalized people, reframe how issues are discussed publicly, and provide opportunities for reflection and discussion. Moving Walls honors this work while visually highlighting the Open Society Foundations? mission to staff and visitors. Continue reading “Exhibition and grant opportunity”

Archiving 1971


Photo: Don Mccullin

Archiving?1971

By Sharmin Ahmed

Star Weekend

Winston Churchill said, ?History is written by the victors.? And when history is one-sided, it becomes a propaganda instrument. Archiving is a form of respecting not only history but the truth, and it is with the motive of promoting the truth that documentation of history must be done. ?Archiving 1971?, a programme by Drik to collect oral, textual and visual resources to establish a one stop repository of the historical 1971 War of Liberation for Bangladesh began on that promise

The aim is to bring together a team of researchers, social scientists, historians, archivists and other professionals to assemble definitive archives of this important chapter in the country’s history. The 10-year plan includes not only collating materials from across the world but also generate the economic resources necessary to build permanent physical archives. It will help academics, researchers and others to make rigorous analysis and draw inspiration from the repository.

Continue reading “Archiving 1971”

Art as a Witness

 

Shahidul Alam to speak at the Colombo Art Biennial : Art as a Witness

Amu Shahidul 2010?Yasmine Eid-Sabbagh

An extraordinary artist ? eloquent with words and images ? Shahidul Alam is a photographer, writer, activist and social entrepreneur, who was profoundly influenced by inequality in Bangladesh, his country and the liberation war.  He left a career in science in the west to pursue a life in photography challenging oppression and imperialism in all its forms. Attacked, arrested, and threatened with death, Alam has built what many consider to be the finest photography school in the world, an award winning agency, and the world?s most demographically diverse photo festival. Widely celebrated, Alam claims as his achievements not the awards he has won or the impressive list of exhibits, but the people he has trained and the lives he has transformed. Continue reading “Art as a Witness”

Eduardo Santiago's Reviews > Shahidul Alam: My Journey as a Witness

Shahidul Alam by Shahidul Alam

My rating:

didn't like it it was ok liked it really liked it it was amazing

add to my books

Shahidul Alam: My Journey as a Witness
by?Shahidul Alam,?Rosa Maria Falvo?(Editor)

2860188

Eduardo Santiago‘s review

Jan 01, 12
4 of 5 stars

Recommended to Eduardo by:?Ginger
Painful to read. Troubling… but beautiful and inspiring as well. Alam comes across as deeply bitter, but unlike the rest of us he uses that to make this world a better place. Through his photography, his words, his actions, he brings truths to light. Beauty, too.
This is not a coffee table book. It’s not even mostly a photography book. It’s … autobiography? Geopolitical venting? Self-congratulation? Those but also much more. From my privileged first-world position it’s difficult to understand this book in context, to know where Alam is coming from. It’s easy to accept his perspective, to be temporarily outraged, and ultimately to do nothing because the third world (?Majority World?, as Alam insightfully calls it) is so remote.
Despite that, despite Alam’s occasionally difficult prose, I think this is a book worth reading and absorbing. A perspective that may be new to many of us. A reminder of so much that still needs to be fixed in this world, and that there are people fighting to fix it.

?Get Out, Black Animals?: what happened in Tawergha, Libya

Media Lens, London, 18 January 2012
One might think that a corporate media system would act independently of the state ? there is no formal mechanism of control. But as the ingrained bias sampled above indicates, this often turns out not to be the case. With regard to human rights, for example, corporate media typically do not simply pick a subject and lavish it with attention. Rather, political power selects an issue, frames the coverage, and media corporations jump on the bandwagon.
Type a household name like ?Halabja? into the UK media database search engine Lexis-Nexis, for example, and it produces more than 1,800 references to Saddam Hussein?s 1988 gassing of Kurds. Similarly, the words ?Srebrenica? and ?massacre? generate nearly 3,000 hits. Both issues have been afforded vast, impassioned coverage.
In truth, for Western commentators, the importance of these horrors is most often rooted, not in the scale of suffering inflicted, but in their utility for justifying the West?s military interventions. Thus an editorial in the Independent observed of Libya:
?Concern was real enough that a Srebrenica-style massacre could unfold in Benghazi, and the UK Government was right to insist that we would not allow this.? (Leading article, ?The mission that crept,? Independent, July 29, 2011) Continue reading “?Get Out, Black Animals?: what happened in Tawergha, Libya”

Bangladesh in the Brazilian Amazon

By Gabriel Elizondo in Americas

Aljazeera
Wed, 2012-01-11 03:55.
In the northwest Brazilian Amazon town of Brasileia, population 20,238, there are almost 1,200 Haitians.
They often mill around during the day, clustered in groups in the shade trying to keep cool from the steamy heat, waiting for weeks for their work documents to be processed so they can get a job in another part of Brazil.
But on Tuesday it was the two other guys sitting alone who caught my attention. They could have been Bolivian perhaps, or even Brazilian. But I knew they weren?t.
?We are from Bangladesh,? AHM Sultan Ahmed, 36, tells me with a smile when I approach and ask to talk with them.
His friend, Abdul Awal, and my photojournalist, Maria Elena Romero, and I, all sit together on the grass and begin to chat.

Abdul Malek is going to work in Tripoli in Libya. The day before his departure the family camps outside the airport. At night they pray for his safe travel. Dhaka, Bangladesh. 1996. Photo: ? Shahidul Alam/Drik

They are from Dhaka, and arrived in Brasileia the night before. They slept on the ground in the main plaza, having nowhere else to go. For obvious reasons, they look tired, but still muster the energy to smile wide and often.
Why did you come to Brazil?
?I heard Brazil?s economy is growing, and that here is good for us and good jobs,? Ahmed says. ?Soon we can hopefully get our papers and find a job. I am happy?
?I think there is a lot of work in South America now, and a lot of people from my country are wanting to come here now,? he continues.
Neither has been to Brazil before, nor speak a word of Portuguese.
Continue reading “Bangladesh in the Brazilian Amazon”

American Activists and the Birth of Bangladesh

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Celebrating victory. (c) Kishor Parekh

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Forty years ago this month, the country of Bangladesh declared its independence from Pakistan. Then-President Richard Nixon supported Pakistan during the war because he wanted to prove the US would stand by an ally.
Many Americans disagreed with that stance. And when a ship headed for Pakistan with military equipment and ammunition was set to stop at a US port, one group of Americans felt it was necessary to get involved.
?I was ready to risk my life there,? says 78-year-old Richard Taylor. ?I just wanted to get in front of that ship.? Continue reading “American Activists and the Birth of Bangladesh”

BANGLADESH PHOTOBOOK READER PRIZE

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Shahidul Alam?s ?My Journey as a Witness?: book excerpt and giveaway

A retrospective publication dedicated to the work of renowned Bangladeshi photojournalist and social activist Shahidul Alam has been published by Skira. We have a copy of the book to give away to one lucky reader.
Head on down past the fascinating opening essay from the book excerpted below, put together by curator and writer Rosa Maria Falvo, to find out how to win!

Shahidul Alam, 'Ilish fishing'. Image from book. ? Shahidul Alam.Shahidul Alam, ‘Ilish fishing’. Image from book. ? Shahidul Alam.

Impossible is nothing
Few Westerners have any understanding of Bangladesh?s complicated history or even know exactly where it is on a map. And fewer still have experienced what this country has to offer. I first went there in 2008, travelling to Dhaka from Kolkata by bus across the Indian-Bangladeshi border at Benapole, and after our first ?luxury? bus ripped a hole in its undercarriage as the driver forced the ferry ramp prematurely, we jumped onto another making its way into the belly of a night ferry, crossing the Padma (?lotus?) River, the main channel of the great Ganges (Ganga) River originating in the Himalayas. Immediately surrounded by a smiling and curious crowd, it felt exhilarating to be suddenly thrust into the enduring dynamism that is daily life in Bangladesh. Washing over my vague but cemented notions of disaster and poverty, the reality for me was inspiring, within the chaos and calm combined. I have since travelled southwards to Chittagong?s great seaport, and then north into Bogra, through Dinajpur, visiting temples and monasteries, onto Rangpur, stopping for tea with indigo farmers, heading west to Thakurgaon, giving way to elephants on the village roads, and across India on our way to Biratnagar, Nepal. Increasingly, I am struck by the pervading ?impossible is nothing? approach to life here, and by the magnanimity of the people of Bangladesh.
We met a cheeky bearded man on a bicycle, busily navigating his schedule in a city that relentlessly thwarts any plans one might have to move promptly from A to B. To describe Dhaka?s serious traffic problems is to begin with sheer understatement, and yet the locals carry on undeterred. We walked into his photo agency full of energetic youth, with an obvious respect for their teacher, in positions of responsibility that showed they belong.
Working alongside Shahidul Alam is an extraordinary experience. There is no self-righteous arrogance, impatient hustling, or delusions of grandeur. Here is a true humanitarian; honest, hard-working, and committed to the cause; a talented man who is loved by many in a social, political and environmental system that is bursting at the seams; one that needs overhauling; and one he has been intimately engaged with for over thirty years. In the most unlikely conditions, with the odds (and sometimes the guns) pointed squarely against him, he manages to get the job done with a centeredness that inspires others to do the same. And what exactly is that job? Born from a simple premise and pitted against a seemingly impossible challenge, he dares to turn perceptions around and broaden our thinking, to rebalance the dynamics of communicative power, to redistribute imagery that impacts contemporary culture, and to respect geographic diversification. Not one to shy from the harshest realities in his country, which are best understood by those living them, Alam is educating for a new vision, which enlightened photography aspires to convey. If we consider the classic vehicles of social control, what happens when multinationals and politicians representing eight countries monopolise a world whose ?majority? often stands like an elephant tied to a rope? This majority will inevitably find its strength and something practical and peaceful can be done to help recognise it.

Continue reading “BANGLADESH PHOTOBOOK READER PRIZE”