Vivek Bald wrote Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America to trace the untold story of Muslim Bengali men’s migration from British colonial Bengal throughout the 19th and 20th centuries and integration into the U.S. during the Asian exclusion era. This book review deconstructs gaps around Muslim women’s representation within Bengali Harlem through three analytical frameworks: self-orientalization and differential assimilation; masculinities and transnational migration; and the biopolitics of the racialized female body. This review aims to question how patriarchal constructions of Muslim masculinity impact men’s decisions to migrate and establish communities in New York. It explores how transnational masculinities are reinforced and maintained post-migration through kinship networks supported by Muslim women. A close reading reveals how within this overlapping diaspora, the establishment of “Bengali Harlem” indirectly led to inter-ethnic female bonding and community building within racial and gendered limitations. While Bald gives credit to African American, Creole, and Puerto Rican women in building and growing a community, he barely acknowledges the work of the Muslim Bengali wives that migrant men have left behind. This raises questions around the gendered silencing of Muslim Bengali and American women and their invisible labor in establishing a male-dominated migrant network. Using the gaps in Bald’s book as a starting point, this review deconstructs archival narratives from women included in the book. It also incorporates an examination of transnational Muslim masculinities and migrant precarity in relation to Bangladeshi labor, along with the comparative perspective of female migration, to reveal how Bangladeshi male migration to the United States has impacted women’s socio-economic agency, Muslim identity, and gender relations in both the U.S. and rural Bangladesh.
"Left-Behind Bangladeshi Wives of Muslim Male Migrants in New York: A Critique of Vivek Bald’s Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America,"
Journal of International Women's Studies: Vol. 25:
2, Article 14.
Available at: https://vc.bridgew.edu/jiws/vol25/iss2/14