Vivek Bald’s “Selling the East in the American South” addresses the fragmented study of South Asian immigrants in the American South from the late 19th century to the early 20th century. He demonstrates through the literature how these South Asians, specifically Bengali Muslim peddlers, break from the ‘American exceptionalism’ and the traditional paradigm of migration in the U.S. through their settlements in the U.S., and interactions with American society at that time. Though the study of South Asian migration and immigration in the United States is a small field, Bald indicates that most historians in it seem to mainly focus on the immigration of South Asians to America post Hart-Cellar Immigration Act (1965).  Which only benefited the skilled South Asian migrants immigrating and settling in America. The author like some other historians is more interested on earlier waves of South Asian migration pre- 1965 Immigration Act, but instead of focusing on the Punjabi in the West Coast during the early 20th century, he concentrates on the fragmented early history of South Asian immigrants on the East Coast.  

            Bengali Muslim peddlers break from the traditional paradigm of migration in the U.S. through their migrational settlements along the east coast. Arriving in New York in the 1880s, these Bengali Muslim peddlers strayed away from the norm immigrant settlement in cities of the North and Midwest but instead headed towards boardwalk towns in New Jersey or turned southwards to places like New Orleans and Charleston.[1] These Bengali peddlers were displaying a multifaceted migrational patterns. Bald’s identification of these multifaceted migrational patterns pushes the field in a new direction from his recognition of how these South Asian migrants break the normative patterns of migration. The author was able to piece together this identification from examining several archival sources through census records, shipping records, etc.[2] Though Bald’s use of this information aids his identification of these new migrational patterns of Bengali peddlers seen in his essay, the author only focuses on the Bengali men. He does not mention much or at all about the Bengali women in India and America.  Also, the author forgets to mention Bengali families that could have immigrated with these peddlers to America as well.  This marginalization done by Bald in his essay is due to the lack of evidence found on Bengali women and families.

        Bengali Muslim peddlers break from ‘American exceptionalism’ through their integration and interaction with American society during the late 19th century and early 20th century. In 1891, the first mention of these peddlers was of them working and selling items of ‘the exotic’ like silks or embroidered cloth on resorts in the tourist parts of the New Jersey seaside.[3] Bald’s understanding of this economic system of the peddlers is only reflected in his essay through Bengali men. The author does not mention any female Bengali peddlers at all. This is another way, Bald is marginalizing the Bengali in the American South.  Although, some of the peddlers chose not to settle permanently in those locations, the ones that did had settled in the working-class communities of African descent.[4] Bald indicates that these peddlers broke the traditional norm of assimilating to the American ‘whiteness’ by immigrants. An identification by Bald that completely changes the field of South Asian immigration. By finding a connection between the Bengali peddlers and African American communities demonstrates the impact this integration impacted the service economy and culture of the American South.

        Vivek Bald’s historiography of the Bengali Muslim peddlers has changed the field of South Asian immigration to America. By addressing the impact of these peddlers to the economy and socio-culture of the American South, the author demonstrates how the Bengali peddlers break from the ‘American exceptionalism’ and the traditional paradigm of migration in America. Though Bald’s contributions changed the field, the lack of evidence caused a huge marginalization on the Bengali immigrants. Which affects mainly the Bengali families and females in India and America. The lack of first person accounts, memoirs, etc. all affect and inhibit the field, but with time historians in future will be able to uncover and find more evidence on South Asian migration and immigration to America.

 

 

Citations:

[1] Vivek Bald, “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), 33-34.

[2] Vivek Bald, “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), 34-36.

[3] Bald, “Selling the East in the American South”, 35-36.

[4] Bald, “Selling the East in the American South”, 34.