In Search of Bengali Harlem

: Documentary
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Production






In Search of Bengali Harlem will unearth a unique, little-known story of twentieth-century Harlem. Between WWI and the 1940s, hundreds of Muslim steamship workers from the region that is now Bangladesh deserted in New York and found work as factory laborers, cooks, dishwashers, and street vendors. By the 1930s, a group of these men had settled in Harlem, married Puerto Rican and African American women and had quietly integrated into the larger neighborhood. Following the lead of Alaudin Ullah  a Bangladeshi American actor and playwright in search of answers about his fathers life in Harlem in the years before Alaudins birth  this feature documentary will set out to find some of the remaining members of the Bengali Harlem community - the children of Bengali-Puerto Rican-African American intermarriage. Now in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, these men and women will speak of their childhoods navigating mixed families, going to mosques with their fathers and Catholic, Baptist, or AME churches with their mothers, becoming American as they spoke English, Spanish, and Bangla on the streets of post-war Harlem. The film will weave together interviews, archival footage, family photographs, and historical documents with an original soundtrack by celebrated jazz pianist Vijay Iyer.


Vivek Bald - Director

Vivek Bald is a documentary filmmaker and writer whose work explores the stories of the South Asian diaspora. His films include "Mutiny: Asians Storm British Music" (2003) a music documentary/social documentary featuring Asian Dub Foundation, Fun^Da^Mental, Talvin Singh and others, that focused on South Asian youth, music, and anti-racist politics in 1970s-90s Britain, and "Taxi-vala/Auto-biography," (1994) which examined the lives, struggles, and activism of New York City taxi drivers from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. "In Search of Bengali Harlem" is one element of a transmedia project recovering the histories of peddlers and steamship workers from British colonial India who came to the United States under the shadows of anti-Asian immigration laws in the early to mid-twentieth century, and married and settled within U.S. neighborhoods and communities of color. The other parts of the project include the book Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America, published by Harvard University Press in January 2013 and a digital oral history website, currently in development at


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