Selling the East in the American South Analysis

Selling the East in the American South Analysis


Selling the East in the American South Analysis

            “Selling the East in the American South” by Vivek Bald pushes the historiographical literature in a new direction through the creation of new disciplinary fields. Such fields include, effects on migrations, race, immigration v. migration, etc. Bald takes the current state of the historical field and explores the historical narrative of South Asian immigrants and the impact they had in the southern United States. Vivek Bald’s use of primary sources such as ship manifests, draft registrations, support the story as well as Bald’s argument of the Bengali Muslim Peddlars influence of historical scholarship, orientalism, transnationalism in the Eastern and Southern United States.

Bald begins his argument by explaining the historical scholarship behind South and East Asian immigrants and that it is dominated by the Punjabi migrations and the Hart-Cellar Immigration Act of 1965.[1] Bald analyzes the impacts of these two situations on South Asian immigration history and how it has effected the understanding of Bengali Muslim Peddlars. The Punjabi migrations were the start of anti-Asian sentiments in the United States, primarily Western United States in California.[2] The Punjabi movements were trans-specific, based on political, militant movement.[3] This effected the understanding of Asian immigrants’ due to their trans-specific motives for immigration. The next example of misrepresentation of different Asian immigration is the dominance of the scholarship on the Hart-Cellar Immigration Act of 1965 which “allowed” Asian immigrants into the United States of those that excelled in their fields of study.[4] Those immigrants included: doctors, engineers, professors, etc.[5] However, it is curious to know how the first-person accounts of these Asian immigrants to those of the Bengali Muslim Peddlars would compare had there been documentation behind the latter’s experiences. In addition, how the American people viewed the Asian immigrants that contributed to the work field, and in pushing towards commercial orientalism compared to the Punjabi migrators that unfortunately are related to the beginning of anti-Asian sentiment. Overall, the migration patterns of the latter were vastly different from the former, further supporting Bald’s argument of the complexities and differences of South Asian immigration and the lack of representation in the historiographical field. Bald’s work further complicates and reveals more to the scholarship of South Asian Immigrant experiences and migration patterns.

Interestingly, regardless of strong anti-Asian sentiment in the United States at this time, the idea and the goods associated with Asian orientalism were considered extremely favorable.[6] The use of orientalism in the United States, Bald argues, had a rising popularity especially among the white middle and upper classes on the Eastern and Southern United States.[7] For men, oriental goods represented masculinity in a cultured symbol[8]. For women, owning oriental goods such as silks, dishes, etc. presented a wealthy, cosmopolitan image that was desired for in these upper and middle classes.[9] While the United States did not encourage or even favor the idea of an Asian immigrant, the south Asian culture was welcomed and knitted into the society of the south.[10] Bald uses the examples of the creation of oriental themed Mardi Gras floats and parades which involved white upper and middle-class men costumed in oriental goods while floating on parades above the Bengali peddlars and African American immigrants walking the streets below them.[11] The reason these peddlars settled in places like the south, Bald’s main argument, is that they were following the rise in cities of travel and tourism.[12] The selling of the ideas of the East was chased throughout cities in the south and overall had an impact on how oriental popular culture came to prominence in the southern United States. Reflecting on Bald’s argument, it is the seeming willingness of the Bengali peddlars to sell the myths of their culture, the exoticized versions of their identity for the success they found orientalism to be in the commercial industry. This adds to the historiographic field by the difference in experiences of immigrant’s lives.

Another example Bald enforces is the impact South Asian immigrants had on transnationalism as a whole. When comparing the Bengali Muslim peddlars to the Punjabi migrants and Hart-Cellar skilled professionals, a clear distinction is made through overall immigration and migration patterns.[13] The Punjabi migrants as well as the skilled professionals had similar patterns in that these Asian immigrants had the intent of settling in the United States. The Bengali Peddlers differed in that most did not settle in the United States.[14] In fact, only a handful remained permanent in the New Orleans area which contributed to the African American cultural communities.[15] This, Bald argues would break against the whiteness paradigm, contributing to the difference in immigrant lives and experiences.[16] The majority of the peddlars returned back to their countries whether it be permanently or to restock on oriental goods to return to the United States and work seasonally during tourist seasons in the south. The non-permanence in these migrators unfortunately, is not backed by personal accounts. Bald’s argument supports the importance of a diverse, scholarship behind not only Asian immigrants, but immigrants who do not fit along the white, permanent settler paradigm.

Throughout “Selling the East in the American South,” it is evident that Vivek Bald’s main arguments around historical scholarship, the idea of orientalism, and the impact on transnationalism all contribute to the importance of promoting immigration as a diverse, complex, non-white experience that effected many different groups differently. Vivek Bald’s use, and lack of, certain primary sources help to support his argument.


Bald, Vivek. “Selling the East in the American South.” in Asian Americans in Dixie: Race and Migration in the South. ed. Khyati Y. Joshi and Jigna Desai.(University of Illinois Press, 2013), 33-53.

[1] Vivek Bald, “Selling the East in the American South,” The University of Illinois Press, 33

[2] Bald, 33

[3] Bald, 33

[4] Bald, 33

[5] Bald, 33

[6] Bald, 35.

[7] Bald, 35.

[8] Bald, 35.

[9] Bald, 36.

[10] Bald, 37.

[11] Bald, 43.

[12] Bald, 45.

[13] Bald, 46-47.

[14] Bald, 46-47.

[15] Bald, 46-47.

[16] Bald, 46-47.