A New Bronx Tale: Bangladeshis Growing Presence In The Borough Creates Hope And Conflict

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By Palash R. Ghosh | April 19, 2013 8:02 PM EST

The recent assault on a Bangladeshi man in the Bronx by a group of up to four Hispanic males may reflect growing tensions between this new South Asian community and the other longer-established ethnic enclaves in the borough.

The New York Post reported that 30-year-old Abdullah Faruque, who was born in Bangladesh but grew up in the Bronx, was having dinner at a Bronx restaurant Monday night when three or four Hispanic men apparently wanted revenge for the Boston Marathon bombings earlier in the day (presumably they had already ascertained that the Boston blasts were perpetrated by Arabs or Muslims).

The paper noted that the four men viciously beat Faruque while shouting  “f--king Arab” at the Bengali man as he stepped out of the Applebee’s restaurant on Exterior Avenue in Melrose for a smoke.

On a broader basis, Bangladeshis are now the largest Asian-born ethnic group in The Bronx, creating both opportunity and new conflicts.

The Bronx Ink reported that Starling Avenue in the Parkchester neighborhood of The Bronx has become the center of Bangladeshi life in the borough, with many stores and restaurants catering to Bengalis.

Bangladeshis started arriving in the US – and in particularly New York City – in significant numbers in the early 1990s after the government opened a new ‘visa lottery system’ which permitted arrivals from some Asian countries that had previously found it difficult to move to the US unless one had advanced math or science degrees and qualifications.

The Bronx Ink reported that most of the first Bangladeshis settled in Astoria and Jackson Heights in Queens and Kensington in Brooklyn -- but by the new century as property prices escalated, many Banglas moved to the East Bronx attracted by cheaper rents.

As of 2009 Census Bureau data, there were more than 4,000 Bangladeshis in Parkchester – up from just 10 Bangla families in 1991.

On the whole, more than 8,000 Bangladeshis now call the Bronx home.

“In the last few years, [the Bangladeshi community] growing pretty quickly,” said Mohammed Islam, President of the Bronx Bangladesh Society to the Ink.

“The rent is expensive elsewhere, so people are coming from Parkchester and Queens over there, because of relatives and family members.”

The local mosque in Parkchester, Jame Masjid, is completely dominated by Bangladeshis and attracts as many as 1,500 worshippers to Friday services.

Norwood, in the northwestern part of The Bronx, also has a growing Bangladeshi community.

“For the last decade the number of ethnic Bangladeshi’s have been constantly growing” local businessman Alhaj Solaiman Bhuyan told Voice of NY.

“A number of groceries have set up shops where Bangladeshi goods are available and the area has Bangladeshi restaurants. Walking through the streets one can easily smell the aroma of Bangladeshi foods in the air. The area has easy subway connection to the city center which may be a possible reason for the increased eagerness of Bangladeshis to come and settle here.”

However, as their community has expanded in The Bronx in recent years, Bangladeshis (and their apparent economic success) have also sparked resentment and even violence from the black and Hispanic communities that have long resided in the borough.

Many incidents of assault and verbal abuse have been reported against Bangladeshis.

“Many in the [Bangladeshi] community feel there is racial jealousy going on towards us,” local businessman Zakir Khan told The Ink.

“They feel we’re easy targets because we’re peaceful, many don’t speak a lot of English and we’re not known to fight back.”

In late 2010, following a spree of hate crime incidents against Bangladeshis, State Sen. Ruben Diaz, who represented the Bronx, highlighted the incidents of racial violence directed at the community.

“We are calling on the police department to pay attention to this area and to issue more police force to this area,” he said at a press briefing.

Bronx community organizer Luis Sepulveda said at that same press conference: “We have seen a rise in crimes that are targeting people because of their ethnic background and their religion. Just like any other members of the community, [the Bangladeshis] deserve to feel safe when they walk the streets where they live. Many of them are now fearful, because they were targeted. And so it is necessary that the community and the police department establish an environment that people are safe to walk throughout this community.”

In November 2011, a 59-year-old Bengali named Bimal Chanda was beaten to death by two men in his apartment building in the Fordham section of the Bronx in what was likely a hate crime (the attackers did not take his wallet which was filled with cash).

Now, as the Bangladeshi (and the overall Asian) population increases in The Bronx, they are likely to seek some political clout.

Mohammed Mujumder, an attorney and long-time Bronx resident, may run for City Council in 2013 – if he wins a seat, he will be the first Bangladeshi to hold political office in New York City.

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