Bengali Harlem and the lost histories of South Asian America by Vivek Bald

By Vivek Bald

Nineteenth-century Muslim peddlers arrived at Ellis Island, baggage heavy with silks from their villages in Bengal. call for for “Oriental items” took those migrants on a curious course, from New Jersey’s boardwalks to the segregated South. Bald’s historical past finds cross-racial affinities under the skin of early twentieth-century the USA.

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42 The nearby French Market, in the meantime, was promoted as a kind of portal to a romanticized version of New Orleans’ Creole past. S. newspapers in December 1903 described the French Market as “an eighteenth century market in a twentieth century city,” hailing its “quaint customs,” its “kaleidoscope of sights and . . ” 43 Boosters promoted and advertised the yearly celebrations of Mardi Gras with the aim of drawing ever-greater crowds from outside the city, while simultaneously, if less explicitly, they built an international reputation for the city’s sex district, Storyville.

74 In August 1901, the Atlanta Constitution had provided a similar description of Indian traders in Havana, Cuba, where the number of American tourists and military personnel had quickly grown since the United States occupied the island in the wake of the Spanish-American War. ” As for the goods themselves, the author wrote, admiringly: “They have curious eastern embroideries in silk and cottons. . They make a specialty of draperies, and find ready sale for these, particularly among the Americans and in Columbia [military] barracks .

Hooghly’s peddlers may have known of or favored the line because it had a share in the traffic of Indian Muslim pilgrims to Mecca each year, or simply because it was one of the few lines that readily took “native passengers” between Calcutta and London. 60 The Goorkha first traveled down the eastern coast of India, picking up passengers in Madras and Colombo, then rounded the tip of India and sailed westward across the Arabian Sea. It stopped again to pick up passengers at Aden in Yemen, traveled northwest across the full length of the Red Sea, passed through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean, and docked at Port Said, Egypt.

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