Vivek Bald serves as Assistant professor of Writing and Digital Media at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Professor Bald researches in the areas of diaspora theory, cultural studies, and history. Professor Bald is also a filmmaker whose films include the highly acclaimed documentary Mutiny. At the moment, he is at work on a project that focuses on South Asian immigration prior to 1965, a project that will reinvigorate the ways we think about South Asianess, kinship, and diasporicity.
Professor Bald’s lecture, “At the Limits of “Diaspora? Indian Muslims in New Orleans and Harlem, 1890-1950,” noted that, “The popular image of South Asians in the United States has for many years centered on the generation of professionals who came from India and Pakistan after changes to the immigration laws in 1965, who over the 1970s and 80s largely assimilated into middle-class white suburban American life, while maintaining links to culture and religion in the form of ethnic associations, businesses, newspapers, parades, etc. This focus not only masks the changing class and regional composition of South Asian populations in U.S. cities, but obscures the histories of South Asian labor migrants who came to the U.S. prior to 1965.
One of the largest unacknowledged populations of South Asian migrants in this earlier period consisted of Bengali Muslim maritime workers and small traders/peddlers, thousands of whom moved in and out of Atlantic and Gulf coast ports in the period from the late- nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. This talk will explore the lives and trajectories of the dozens of these men who settled and married within working-class communities of color in U.S. port cities - who “assimilated” into African American and Black Creole neighborhoods in New Orleans in the 1890s-1910s, and Puerto Rican and African American neighborhoods in Harlem in the 1920s-40s.