“Some push us around, some curse us. Where is your splendor and prestige today?”, is a Ghadar protest song that embodies the neglect and subjugation South Asians felt for hundreds of years under British rule.[i] South Asian Americans are an understudied demographic in American history from the late nineteenth century to the twentieth century. In part, this problem is tied to historian’s emphasis on European history. The problem is also compounded by South Asian American scholarship’s focus on post-1965, a time where only skilled South Asians migrants benefited immigrating and settling in America. Exploring the effects of identity, globalization, and surveillance on South Asians in the U.S. demonstrates how South Asians have shaped South Asian Immigration historiography from the late nineteenth century to the twentieth century. Specifically, through the elements of transmigration and establishment of biethnic communities, Indian transnationalism, racial discrimination, border control and exclusionary laws furthered the historiography.

These effects of identity are demonstrated through the trans-migration of South Asians and the establishment of biethnic communities in these areas. The historiography of South Asians on the West coast primarily centers around the Punjabi Sikhs of Imperial Valley of California. From the late 1890s to the 1930s, Punjabi Sikh men were migrated and moved around California.[ii] There, these men started finding field work in orchards, farms, mining and building railroads.[iii] Despite their separate and segregated enclaves, the presence and rise of Punjabi immigration to California increased racial discrimination and subjugation exhibited by Californian ‘natives’.  They exhibited their harsh prejudice through slurs like the “hindu invasion” and “the tide of turbans” often printed in newspapers of the area.[iv] By 1919, about one-third of Californian land was leased or owned by Punjabis.[v] However, with the duality of California’s alien land law and their inability to gain citizenship, land owned by the Punjabis was taken from them.  To overcome California’s alien land law, Punjabi Sikh men began marrying Mexican women.[vi] Thus, creating the Hindu-Mexican bi-ethnic community of the southwest. Historian and author Karen Leonard demonstrates this biethnic community in her novel, Making Ethnic Choices: California’s Punjabi Mexican Americans (1992). Leonard found her evidence through interviews and marriage and birth records. These marriage alliances ensued a bi-ethnic community that allowed these ‘Hindu’ men the power to go around California’s Alien law in the 1930s through their Hispanic wives and allowed them to form networks between themselves and their spouse’s relatives. Networks like the Compadrazgo relationships, that between the child’s parents and godparents within the Punjabi-Mexican community.[vii] A relationship that not only strengthens relationships between Punjabi-Mexican couples but furthered the integration of Punjabi men into the local Hispanic community.

In addition, the Punjabis also began to create networks between themselves and Anglos to overcome California’s alien land law. These relationships were based on a verbal understanding between the Punjabi men and the Anglo farmers, bankers, and lawyers of the area.[viii] Networks that were built through the Punjabi farmers establishment as good farmers with great records with banks, suppliers of agricultural equipment and fertilizer, grocery stores, and automobile dealerships.[ix]  Networks like those not only furthered Punjabi agency in the U.S. but also allowed them to further integrate themselves in the larger American society.

On the East coast, however, the fragmented early history of Bengali Muslim peddlers demonstrates the effects of identity through their biethnic communities in the American South. The historiography of South Asians on the East coast focuses on the Bengali Muslim peddlers of New Orleans. Around the 1890s, Bengali Muslim peddlers began arriving in New York selling chikan and other various ‘Oriental’ goods.[x] These peddlers also worked seasonally, selling goods in big port cities like Atlantic city and Charleston.[xi]  Eventually, through the creation of various Hooghly networks up and down the East Coast, most of these Bengali Muslim peddlers began to settle in New Orleans, specifically in the African American part of the Treme and Storyville.[xii] Thus, establishing a biethnic community amongst the working classes of the African Americans and Creoles of Color.[xiii] These communities not only provided agency for the Bengali peddlers but also furthered New Orleans position as a growing center of travel and tourism.[xiv] Further up North, from the 1920s to the 1930s there was a community of South Asian Muslims settling among African Americans, Puerto Ricans and West Indians in Harlem, New York.[xv] Harlem was the main location of these biethnic settlements between these men and women.[xvi] The biethnic community they established, unlike the Muslim peddler biethnic community in New Orleans, their narrative became lost in American history.

Unlike historian and author Karen Leonard, Vivek Bald, concentrates on the fragmented South Asian history in the East Coast in his book Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America (2013).  Bald found his evidence through archival documentation- ship manifests; birth, death, and marriage certificates; census enumerations- that he had to piece together. Bald’s work is so impactful in the South Asian American historiography, because he was the first person to find evidence on these South Asian Americans. While his colleagues in this field were focusing on the Punjabi Sikhs in California, Bald was more concerned with unheard and lost histories of the South Asians in the East coast. Though both Leonard and Bald focus on different communities of South Asian immigrants, their novels demonstrate how the Punjabi’s community in the west and the Bengali’s community in the east brake the traditional norm of assimilating to the American ‘whiteness’ and the notion of ‘American exceptionalism’.  Themes that other European immigrants succumbed to when immigrating to the United States.

The effects of South Asian globalization shaped South Asian Immigration historiography.  These effects of globalization are demonstrated through Indian transnationalism in the U.S. and abroad. For years, Indians abroad suffered from state repression and lack of equality within the British empire used the philosophy and ideals of The American Revolution to advocate for the liberation of India.[xvii] Historian and author J.S. Bains, in his article “The Ghadar Movement: A Golden Chapter of Indian Nationalism,” (1962) provides a thorough understanding of how the Ghadar movement effected South Asians globally. In various locations in North America like Vancouver and Seattle, early anti-colonialist leaders, Sant Teja Singh, Ram Nath Puri, and Bhai Parmanand met to promote the notion of independence.[xviii] Har Dayal joined these men, who, through his speeches and writings urged his peers to join and work for India’s independence.[xix]

By 1913, they established the Hindi Association of America later known as the Hindustan Ghadar Party.[xx] The aims of the Hindustan Ghadar Party were to encourage the establishment of an Indian governing body that was separate from the British empire, a government that harbors all ideals of freedom.[xxi] Within a few months of the party’s establishment, they gained thousands of followers all of North America.[xxii] Many of which were students in the United States, influenced by early leaders like Sohan Bhakna, became aware of the migrant labor exploitation, racial discrimination, and colonial subjugation they suffered throughout the British empire and abroad.[xxiii] The party published articles in the Hindustan Ghadar[xxiv], to spread the awareness of the migrant labor exploitation, racial discrimination, and colonial subjugation they suffered throughout the British empire and in the United States.[xxv] According to historian and author, Emily C. Brown, in her book Har Dayal: Hindu Revolutionary and Rationalist (1975) is a micro-history, which is an intensive investigation research on a smaller unit of the research.  Her book explores the intellectual journey of Har Dayal and focusing on his influence and eventual leadership of the Ghadar Party.  Brown’s book demonstrates how Har Dayal used his writings on anticolonialism, and Indian independence as propaganda to garner South Asian attention around the world. His writings had not only spread the notion of Indian independence but began the advocacy for uprisings within the British empire and abroad. The Ghadar party also used events of Indian subjugation abroad as propaganda for the push of the need of Indian independence. The events of the Komagatta Maru, where the Indian passengers were denied the right to enter Canadian soil was a huge dilemma that the Ghadar party used to their advantage. They published a variety of articles using the circumstances of the Komagata Maru as evidence of the second-class citizen treatment of Indians within the British empire and abroad. The propaganda of the Komagata Maru had globally alerted Indians that they were not only seen as subversive agitators in North America but also allowed them to advocate rights for equality and separation from imperial rule.

In addition, The Ghadar party used their alliance with Germany to further their cause for Indian independence. Around 1915, The Berlin Indian committee worked with German foreign minister, Alfred Zimmerman, to send and provide funds for the Ghadar party in the United States.[xxvi] This alliance for the Berlin Indian committee allowed them to print and spread anti-British literature to Indian prisoners of war in Germany.[xxvii] For the Germans, this alliance at the height of World War I would allow them to build and further anti-British sentiments among the Indian soldiers fighting on the Western front.[xxviii] Though this relationship was promising for both parties, in reality the German-Indian alliance was ‘fragile and riddled with tension from its inception.’[xxix] This meant that many Indian radicals perceived the Germans as untrustworthy and tried to be as independent from the German Foreign office as possible. The history of this alliance between the Ghadar party and Germany had furthered the South Asian Immigration historiography globally. However, the alliance also contributed to the list of reasons the U.S. and the British worked together to surveil theses radicalists in North America as the U.S. grew closer to entering World War I.

The effects of surveillance on South Asians abroad have shaped South Asian Immigration historiography through the racial discrimination, border control and exclusionary laws. In a period between the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, the British empire and U.S. started to together begin to monitor and control the mobility of South Asians in North America and abroad.[xxx] They did so through an intricate infrastructure of “exit and entry regulations, documentation, requirements, and inspection sites and practices, and the regulated private passenger steamship companies to monitor and manage human mobility.”[xxxi] To evade the immigration obstacles of the 1917 U.S. immigration act, and 1915 restrictive British-Raj passport, South Asians began to migrate Manilla.[xxxii] In the Philippines, these South Asians worked as peddlers and laborers, and began “to claim residency in Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Hawaii to remigrate in the continental United States,” until the U.S. government officials figured this out and eventually broke the loophole that allowed South Asian and other Asian migrants to reimmigrate into the United States.[xxxiii]

By 1914, South Asian migrants began to travel via commercial passenger lines to ports of the Panama and Mexico.[xxxiv] These men would then adopt a new Hispanic identity and migrate to the United States.[xxxv]  Though some of these migrants were able to evade their barriers of immigration and reimmigrate to the U.S., they later became associated with radical Indian anti-colonial thought that swept across North America. According to historian and author, Nayan Shah, in his article “Intimate Dependency, Race, and Trans-Imperial Migration,” (2013), furthers the transmigrational theme in South Asian Immigration historiography. Shah demonstrates through his literature a variety of ways South Asians adapted to go around their travel and immigration bans in North America. This approach in his literature is similar to Vivek Bald, who also changed and pushed South Asian Immigration historiography into a new direction.

Due to the rise in anti-colonial political thought by Indian migrants, officials in both the U.S. and Canada-Britain started to deport these agitators and ‘anarchists.’[xxxvi]Author and historian Seema Sohi, in her book, Echoes of Mutiny: Race, Surveillance, and Indian Anticolonialism in North America, demonstrates how radical anti-colonist resistance is a response to anti-Asian exclusionary movements that evolved into state sanctioned surveillance and caused inter-imperial alliances between the U.S. and Britain. Sohi found her evidence through Bureau of Immigration files, surveillance reports, and congressional hearings pertaining to Indian migrants. The American fear of anarchist and anticapitalistic politics led them into an inter-imperial alliance with Britain and to associate “Hindu” with anarchy and other un-American ideologies.[xxxvii] This led to heavy surveillance by both the U.S. and Britain on leaders of anti-colonial movement and a rise in more Asian exclusionary laws in North America.[xxxviii] Her argument not only provides a new global understanding of Asian exclusion but breaks the notion of American exceptionalism and contributes to the field and study of the United States as a part of global history.

The historiography of South Asian U.S. immigration demonstrated through the effects of identity, globalization, and surveillance on South Asians in the U.S. has shaped South Asian Immigration historiography from the late nineteenth century to the twentieth century. Authors like Karen Leonard, Vivek Bald, J.S. Bains, Emily C. Brown, Nayan Shah, Seema Sohi, etc. have changed, furthered, and pushed South Asian Immigration historiography in new directions. Also demonstrating how the focus of South Asian Immigration historiography has shifted biethnic communities and transmigrational movements to Indian globalization and anti-colonialism.  Not only do these authors further the field but they are giving a voice to all the South Asian immigrants who have been forgotten in U.S. history.

 

 

End Notes:

[i] Jensen, Joan M. The Passage from India: Asian Indian immigrants in North America, (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1988) 42.

[ii] Leonard, Karen, “Punjabi Pioneers in California: Political Skills on a New Frontier,” South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 12 (1989): 69-81.

[iii] Gibson, Margaret A. “Punjabi Orchard Farmers: An Immigrant Enclave in Rural California,” The International Migration Review 22 (1988): 28-50.

[iv] Gonzales, Juan L. “Asian Indian Immigration Patterns: The Origins of the Sikh Community in California.” The International Migration Review 20 (1986) 40-54.

[v]  La Brack, Bruce, The Sikhs of Northern California, 1904-1975, (New York: AMS Press, 1988) 21-213.

[vi] Leonard, Karen, “Punjabi Farmers and California’s Alien Land Law.” Agricultural History 59 (1985): 549-562.

[vii] Leonard, Karen, Making Ethnic Choices: California’s Punjabi Mexican Americans, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992) 21-213.

[viii] LaBrack, Bruce, and Karen Leonard, “Conflict and Compatibility in Punjabi-Mexican Immigrant Families in Rural California, 1915-1965,” Journal of Marriage and Family 46 (1984): 527-37.

[ix] Leonard, Karen, Making Ethnic Choices: California’s Punjabi Mexican Americans, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992) 21-213.

[x] Bald, Vivek, Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013) 19-232.

[xi] Bald, Vivek, “Selling the East in the American South”, in Asian Americans in Dixie, ed. Khyati Y. Joshi and Jigna Desai (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2013), 33-45.

[xii] Bald, Vivek, “Selling the East in the American South”, in Asian Americans in Dixie, ed. Khyati Y. Joshi and Jigna Desai (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2013), 33-44.

[xiii] Bald, Vivek, Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013) 19-232.

[xiv] Bald, Vivek, “Selling the East in the American South”, in Asian Americans in Dixie, ed. Khyati Y. Joshi and Jigna Desai (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2013), 33-44.

[xv] Bald, Vivek, Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013) 19-232.

[xvi] Bald, Vivek, “Desertion and Sedition: Indian Seamen, Onshore Labor, and Expatriate Radicalism in New York.” in The Sun Never Sets: South Asian Migrants in an Age of U.S. Power, ed. Bald, Vivek, Miabi Chatterji, Sujani Reddy, and Manu Vimalassery (New York: New York University Press, 2013) 75-102.

 

[xvii] Bains, J. S. “The Ghadar Movement: A Golden Chapter of Indian Nationalism.” The Indian Journal of Political Science 23 (1962), 48-59.

[xviii] Sohi, Seema, “Repressing the “Hindu Menace”: Race, Anarchy, and Indian Anti-colonialism.” In The Sun Never Sets: South Asian Migrants in an Age of U.S. Power, edited by Bald, Vivek, Miabi Chatterji, Sujani Reddy, and Manu Vimalassery (New York: New York University Press, 2013), 50-71.

[xix] Bains, J. S. “The Ghadar Movement: A Golden Chapter of Indian Nationalism.” The Indian Journal of Political Science 23 (1962), 48-59.

[xx] Sohi, Seema, “Race, Surveillance, and Indian Anticolonialism in the Transnational Western U.S.-Canadian Borderlands,” The Journal of American History 98, (2011): 420-36.

[xxi] Bains, J. S. “The Ghadar Movement: A Golden Chapter of Indian Nationalism.” The Indian Journal of Political Science 23 (1962), 48-59.

[xxii] Bains, J. S. “The Ghadar Movement: A Golden Chapter of Indian Nationalism.” The Indian Journal of Political Science 23 (1962), 49-51.

[xxiii] Sohi, Seema, Echoes of Mutiny: Race, Surveillance, and Indian anticolonialism in North America, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014) 164-171.

[xxiv] Bains, J. S. “The Ghadar Movement: A Golden Chapter of Indian Nationalism.” The Indian Journal of Political Science 23 (1962), 49-53. The Hindustan Ghadar is a newspaper.

[xxv] Brown, Emily C. Har Dayal: Hindu Revolutionary and Rationalist, (Tucson, Arizona: The University of Arizona Press, 1975) 25-86.

[xxvi] Sohi, Seema, Echoes of Mutiny: Race, Surveillance, and Indian anticolonialism in North America, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014) 164-171.

[xxvii] Sohi, Seema, Echoes of Mutiny: Race, Surveillance, and Indian anticolonialism in North America, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014) 164-171.

[xxviii] Sohi, Seema, Echoes of Mutiny: Race, Surveillance, and Indian anticolonialism in North America, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014) 164-171.

[xxix] Sohi, Seema, Echoes of Mutiny: Race, Surveillance, and Indian anticolonialism in North America, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014) 166.

[xxx] Shah, Nayan, “Intimate Dependency, Race, and Trans-Imperial Migration.” in The Sun Never Sets: South Asian Migrants in an Age of U.S. Power, ed. Bald, Vivek, Miabi Chatterji, Sujani Reddy, and Manu Vimalassery (New York: New York University Press, 2013) 25-45.

[xxxi] Shah, Nayan, “Intimate Dependency, Race, and Trans-Imperial Migration.” in The Sun Never Sets: South Asian Migrants in an Age of U.S. Power, ed. Bald, Vivek, Miabi Chatterji, Sujani Reddy, and Manu Vimalassery (New York: New York University Press, 2013) 26-27.

[xxxii] Shah, Nayan, “Intimate Dependency, Race, and Trans-Imperial Migration.” in The Sun Never Sets: South Asian Migrants in an Age of U.S. Power, ed. Bald, Vivek, Miabi Chatterji, Sujani Reddy, and Manu Vimalassery (New York: New York University Press, 2013) 25-45.

[xxxiii] Shah, Nayan, “Intimate Dependency, Race, and Trans-Imperial Migration.” in The Sun Never Sets: South Asian Migrants in an Age of U.S. Power, ed. Bald, Vivek, Miabi Chatterji, Sujani Reddy, and Manu Vimalassery (New York: New York University Press, 2013) 25-45.

 

[xxxiv] Shah, Nayan, “Intimate Dependency, Race, and Trans-Imperial Migration.” in The Sun Never Sets: South Asian Migrants in an Age of U.S. Power, ed. Bald, Vivek, Miabi Chatterji, Sujani Reddy, and Manu Vimalassery (New York: New York University Press, 2013) 25-45.

[xxxv] Shah, Nayan, “Intimate Dependency, Race, and Trans-Imperial Migration.” in The Sun Never Sets: South Asian Migrants in an Age of U.S. Power, ed. Bald, Vivek, Miabi Chatterji, Sujani Reddy, and Manu Vimalassery (New York: New York University Press, 2013) 25-45.

[xxxvi] Sohi, Seema, Echoes of Mutiny: Race, Surveillance, and Indian anticolonialism in North America, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014) 45-151.

[xxxvii]Sohi, Seema, “Race, Surveillance, and Indian Anticolonialism in the Transnational Western U.S.-Canadian Borderlands,” The Journal of American History 98, (2011): 420-36.

[xxxviii] Sohi, Seema, “Repressing the “Hindu Menace”: Race, Anarchy, and Indian Anti-colonialism.” In The Sun Never Sets: South Asian Migrants in an Age of U.S. Power, edited by Bald, Vivek, Miabi Chatterji, Sujani Reddy, and Manu Vimalassery (New York: New York University Press, 2013), 50-71.

 

Bibliography:

Bains, J. S. “The Ghadar Movement: A Golden Chapter of Indian Nationalism.” The Indian Journal of Political Science 23, no. 1/4 (1962): 48-59.

Bald, Vivek. Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013.

Bald, Vivek. “Desertion and Sedition: Indian Seamen, Onshore Labor, and Expatriate Radicalism in New York.” In The Sun Never Sets: South Asian Migrants in an Age of U.S. Power, edited by Bald, Vivek, Miabi Chatterji, Sujani Reddy, and Manu Vimalassery,75-102. New York: New York University Press, 2013.

Bald, Vivek. “Selling the East in the American South.” In Asian Americans in Dixie, edited by Khyati Y. Joshi and Jigna Desai, 33-47. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2013.

Brown, Emily C. Har Dayal: Hindu Revolutionary and Rationalist. Tucson, Arizona: The University of Arizona Press, 1975.

Gibson, Margaret A. “Punjabi Orchard Farmers: An Immigrant Enclave in Rural California.” The International Migration Review 22, no. 1 (1988): 28-50.

Gonzales, Juan L. “Asian Indian Immigration Patterns: The Origins of the Sikh Community in California.” The International Migration Review 20, no. 1 (1986): 40-54.

Jensen, Joan M. The Passage from India: Asian Indian immigrants in North America. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1988.

LaBrack, Bruce, and Karen Leonard. “Conflict and Compatibility in Punjabi-Mexican Immigrant Families in Rural California, 1915-1965.” Journal of Marriage and Family 46, no. 3 (1984): 527-37.

La Brack, Bruce. “Evolution of Sikh Family Form and Values in Rural California: Continuity and Change 1904-1980.” Journal of Comparative Family Studies 19, (1988): 287-309.

La Brack, Bruce. The Sikhs of Northern California, 1904-1975. New York: AMS Press, 1988.

Leonard, Karen. “Historical Constructions of Ethnicity: Research on Punjabi Immigrants in California.” Journal of American Ethnic History 12, no. 4 (1993): 3-26.

Leonard, Karen. Making Ethnic Choices: California’s Punjabi Mexican Americans. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992.

Leonard, Karen. “Punjabi Farmers and California’s Alien Land Law.” Agricultural History 59, no. 4 (1985): 549-562.

Leonard, Karen. “Punjabi Pioneers in California: Political Skills on a New Frontier.” South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 12, no. 2 (1989): 69-81.

Nayan, Shah. “Intimate Dependency, Race, and Trans-Imperial Migration.” In The Sun Never Sets: South Asian Migrants in an Age of U.S. Power, edited by Bald, Vivek, Miabi Chatterji, Sujani Reddy, and Manu Vimalassery, 25-45. New York: New York University Press, 2013.

Sohi, Seema. “Repressing the “Hindu Menace”: Race, Anarchy, and Indian Anti-colonialism.” In The Sun Never Sets: South Asian Migrants in an Age of U.S. Power, edited by Bald, Vivek, Miabi Chatterji, Sujani Reddy, and Manu Vimalassery, 50-71. New York: New York University Press, 2013.

Sohi, Seema. Echoes of Mutiny: Race, Surveillance, and Indian anticolonialism in North America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Sohi, Seema. “Race, Surveillance, and Indian Anticolonialism in the Transnational Western U.S.-Canadian Borderlands.” The Journal of American History 98, no. 2 (2011): 420-36.

Wenzel, Lawrence A. “The Rural Punjabis of California: A Religio-Ethnic Group.” Phylon (1960-) 29, no. 3 (1968): 245-56.