The Letter That Changed The Lives Of Indians In Post WWII America

Bangladeshi Letter
Bangladeshi Letter

The immigration policy of The United States of America has stood contested for time immemorial. With so much debate surrounding their policies directed towards Muslims from all over the world, it seems necessary to reflect on the deep rooted non inclusive nature that has always prevailed over these immigration policies.

The Immigration Act of 1917, also known as the Asiatic Barred Zone Act, was a law passed by the United States Congress that restricted the immigration of ‘undesirables’ from other countries, including “idiots, imbeciles, epileptics, alcoholics, poor, criminals, beggars, any person suffering attacks of insanity, those with tuberculosis, and those who have any form of dangerous contagious disease, aliens who have a physical disability that will restrict them from earning a living in the United States..., polygamists and anarchists, those who were against the organized government or those who advocated the unlawful destruction of property and those who advocated the unlawful assault of killing of any officer.” Then, in 1923, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that any East Indians who had arrived to the US prior to the 1917 Immigration Act were ineligible to become citizens, casting them as outsiders, as reported in the Harvard University Press.

In 1945, two Indian men contested this judgement by stressing on the importance that scientists, engineers, scholars, and businessmen have had on America. Amongst the people that they left out were, as Vivek Bald describes, “ a shadow population of migrants, spread across the country, who had dropped ‘out of status’ as the immigration laws changed around them.” A vast majority of these people were Indian and Bangladeshi sea men who would escape from British ships and jump onto ones that were going to New York. These people silently cemented themselves into the building blocks of post war America only to find that their foundation was crumbling onto them. Ibhrahim Chowdry was one of these people.

Noted as the first documented Bangladeshi man of New York, Chowdry came to the US in the 1920’s after having escaped from a British crackdown over his political activities in East Bengal. He founded the Indian Seamen’s Club, a place where Indian maritime workers could rest, eat and could feel at home. As reported by Hyphen Magazine, Chowdry was “involved in coalition-building efforts with African American Muslims and Middle-Eastern Muslims, and reached out to Christians and Jews to form interfaith groups. He established the first mosque in New York City, the Al Madina Mosque, which still stands today.” He was also one of the co-founders of the Pakistan League of America. When the immigration act was being questioned, Chowdry wrote a very powerful letter to advocate for the lives and status of so many people who were not considered “skilled labour” - thus leaving them with nowhere to go.

Here is an excerpt found on The Harvard Press:

“I speak for the many. I am not speaking for the transient element—the student the business man, the lecturer, the interpreter of India’s past and present, whose interests and ties in this country are temporary, the man or the woman whose roots are in India and who eventually returns home. I talk for those of us who, by our work and by our sweat and by our blood, have helped build fighting industrial America today. I talk for those of our men who, in factory and field, in all sections of American industry, work side by side with their fellow American workers to strengthen the industrial framework of this country… We have married here; our children have been born here… I speak for such as myself, for those of my brothers who work in the factories of the East and in Detroit… I speak for the workers and the farmers of our community whose lives have been bound to this country’s destiny for 23 years or longer. I speak for these men who while they themselves have no rights under oriental exclusion have seen their sons go off to war these last years to fight for a democracy which they—their fathers—could not themselves enjoy. I speak for men who… expect to die in the country to which they have given their best years… [W]e simply ask you for justice—American justice.”