Secondary Source Analysis

Many different migrant groups have traveled to America throughout the centuries in search of work. Previous to the Hart-Cellar Act of 1965, many South Asians migrated to America. There is very little documented history on this particular migrant group due to the racism Americans had toward these people at the time. Vivek Bald uses archival sources to study the migration of Bengali peddlers and Muslims throughout South East America, and how the desire for “oriental” goods during the late 19th century shaped the migration of these people also while changing the views on anti-Asian sentiments.

Before the demand for oriental goods and entertainment, there was no pattern of migration for South Asians in America. Oriental goods did not receive any sort of acknowledgement until these goods were marketed towards the higher class. Blad uses historian, Kristin Hoganson, to indicate that “oriental goods” at this time conveyed many different meanings for the American population.[1] American men created the market for items like hookahs, animal skins, rugs, ect. While the market for women’s Oriental goods allowed women to claim independence and sexuality through high end fabrics, and jewelry which were sold throughout high-end stores. This demand for oriental goods is how Asians created their place in the market and economy.

Bengali peddlers also established themselves in tourist areas like New Jersey and Atlantic City, building up resorts that catered to higher classes, and created communities. Historian, Charles Funnel, notes that the entertainment in the resorts was more marketed to the upper rich class, and these resorts made their money by catering to lower class groups desire to regard itself as class–ascendants.[2] Vivek Bald also uses shipping and census records to confirm the migration of Bengali peddlers through the South. Many of these migration movements followed a pattern tied to the seasons. The migrant communities that did form became the backbone of the resorts service economy. Other shipping records indicate that some Bengali peddlers made trips in and out of the country each summer.

As for the migrants that stayed in America, records indicate that there was a large population of these people in New Orleans throughout the course of the late 1800s. Many members of these communities initiated the process of naturalization, integrating into black communities as well. Throughout the early 1900s many Bengali peddlers filed intentions to naturalize in federal district courts, and were continued to be denied.[3] Bald studies the evidence of peddler trade throughout the South and how these people established their roots in Southern cities through marriage and or naturalization. The 1910 and 1920 Census found Indian peddlers in New Orleans, Charleston, Savannah, ect. And drafting registration records provided clearer evidence on the spread of this network. With New Orleans evolving into the hub for integrated communities and networks, these immigrants became more known throughout other communities. Bald notes that these people were the ones to have an impact on Jim Crow Law’s as well.

The lack of historical evidence provided on these people has a representation on the relationship that South Asian migrants had with U.S. citizens. The evidence that is available shows how this migrant group created ties throughout the South, establishing themselves as a community and network in the U.S. Bald uses the research of other historians and documents to show how the lives of this ethnic group shaped the identity of these people in America.

 

[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), 36.

[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), 37.

[3] 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), 40-41.