Selling the East in the American South

Selling the East in the American South

In Selling the East in the American South the author focuses on the history and context of the Bengali Peddler migration. She begins by explaining that the first Bengali Muslim Peddlers began arriving in the 1880s in New York at Castle Gardens, and eventually at Ellis Island in 1892. The focus of this text is to explore why instead of staying in New York, or following common patterns of migration, they migrated to East coast boardwalk towns, and eventually to below the Mason-Dixon line. The author explores this by first considering the context which allowed them to migrate to the United States. Basically, these migrants were selling “exotic,” oriental goods such as embroidered cotton, silk kerchiefs and table clothes, small rugs, and wall art. This allowed them to enter the US at a time of anti-immigrant sentiment because people were buying what they were selling. Then, the author examines archival sources to make sense of the peddler network such as ships’ logs, marriage and birth records, and census’ (34). Some of these records show members of the Bengali network trying to start the process of neutralization (39).  Another source the author uses are manifests from that time that confirm there were interconnected Indian peddle households along the East coast in New Jersey, New Orleans, Charleston and other places (41). The author divides the text in three parts; Fancies of India, From Atlantic City to the Crescent City, and The Orient in New Orleans to focus on one aspect of the migration at a time. Towards the end the author explains that while we do have archival records, they only tell us part of their story and most times are relevant only to men. Because of this it is important to use first person accounts. However, there aren’t any first hand accounts from the peddlers, and there are few contemporary accounts describing the peddler’s presence in the south (46).  Lastly, the author mentions that this early history is important because it expands the South Asian American narrative, and challenges us improve the analytical approach to South Asian immigration to account for a variety of different migration experiences.

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