Selling the East in the American South

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Selling the East in the American South

Selling the East in the American South by Vivek Bald explores the migration of Asian Americans into southern United States. Bald begins to focus on the migration of Bengali peddlers to the United States from Ellis Island all the way to New Orleans and eventually traveling to who traveled South America from Panama. These peddlers were selling “oriental goods” such as small rugs and tablecloths that created this worldliness and craze for items that were from “the east”. However Bald explores the peddlers to show how their choices and traveling paths prompt us to look at the importance of Southern United States in South Asian American historiography. Bald argues how the migration of Bengal Muslims was based on the growth of port cities such as New Orleans of which contained travel and tourism. This travel and tourism brought the desire for oriental goods. This desire he argues shows elite white male masculinity and white female extravagance. New Orleans plays a significant role as being the perfect city for peddlers because it gave access to travel and trade to many sites beyond the United States. Bald goes on to argue that this history we have of Asian migration in the south is very rare and the records found only provide part of a story of the peddlers. The peddler’s path of migration is different than others because it was structured based on historical and economic factors. Bald claims that there is this “other” history of early South Asian migrants in which Bengali peddlers are historically hidden. He supports this claim by comparing the experience of Bengali peddlers in the south to those of Punjabi immigrants of the West Coast who were often seen in the public due to creation of ethnic-religious associations. Furthermore, the history of Bengali peddlers is often overlooked and by looking into it Bald states that we can expand our understanding of migrant experiences of South Asian migrants. He also concludes that is important that we look into the relationships of global movement, local rootedness, and geographic impermanence to show the experiences of South Asian migrants.

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