This item is a video file.

Salim Chowdhury Oral History Interview

Oral history interview with Salim Chowdhury on July 5th, 2022, conducted by Subat Matin. Salim Chowdhury was born in Bangladesh in 1965. After finishing high school, he moved to Paris in 1984, studied there for two years at the University of Paris South, then decided to come to the United States. He became a citizen of the United States in 1986. Mr. Chowdhury studied many other majors before becoming a respiratory therapist and has been working in Jamaica Hospital since 1994. He currently resides in Queens, New York with his wife and three children. This interview demonstrates how education was one of the main goals and priorities for Mr. Chowdhury to achieve when immigrating to America. For many Bangladeshi immigrants like Mr. Chowdhury, getting an American education meant being able to live a better life and provide the best opportunities for their families.

Date: July 5, 2022
Type: Oral History
Creator: Subat Matin
Location: Queens, NY

MATIN: Today is July 5th, 2022. So just tell me your story and everything about yourself.

CHOWDHURY: Okay, my name is Salim. I was born in Bangladesh in 1965. I had my elementary education, my junior School, high School, and basically high school after high school in Bangladesh and then I moved to Paris 1984, studied there for two years, University of Paris South then decided to come to the United States. I became a citizen in 1986 ever since I'm here in the United States. I got married in I went to school, explore different major and finally, I studied respiratory therapy. I studied many other majors stayed in Respiratory Therapy. I’ve been working in Jamaica Hospital since 1994 to present, got married 1996, have three children's one daughter, two son. My daughter, the eldest one and I live in New York. I initially came to New York, I lived in Maryland, for some time, I visited many parts of the United States. I settled in New York.

MATIN: What was your early childhood like? Like how many siblings did you have? What did your parents do?

CHOWDHURY: Yeah, so we had I have four brothers and one sister. My father, he was a businessman back home a successful businessman back in Bangladesh. He used to have a business for typewriters. He imported typewriter, supply typewriters, maintain them for different offices. My childhood life was very happy. I had a very happy childhood. Like to play a lot, so I used to play soccer a lot. I participated other sports such as badminton, cricket, volleyball, but soccer was my favorite and I used to play in the National Soccer Team in junior division. It was a very good experience growing up back home, open space with to be able to run, play, go to pond for swimming.

I was born and grew up in the city. The name of the city is Chittagong in Bangladesh. There's two major cities, Dhaka and Chittagong, so I was born and raised in Chittagong, but I liked village. My grandmother and grandfather they lived in the village so whenever I had a school off, I used to go to village to spend time with my grandmother. It was very nice, I liked the open field, the ponds and also listening to the stories my grandmother used to tell us and all the natural fruits mango, jackfruit, abundance of fruits and fresh. So, I still like that experience that I had all the fresh food and then my grandma go pick up vegetables from her garden, fish from the pond and then cook it. The meal was really fresh and very tasty. So, I still miss them and she used to raise chicken and duck so, she would get whenever we go to visit, she would get the chicken, duck and then to cook for us and that was those experiences to have them very sweet memory and also kissed in the exterior. I miss them.

MATIN: When you were in Bangladesh, do you know anything about like American culture?

CHOWDHURY: Well, we as far as we knew that it’s a very progressive country and the first person going to the moon was from America. So, we knew that they are very progressive and economically they are very rich.

MATIN: Did you ever have any dreams or aspirations of coming to America? Was that your goal while living in Bangladesh?

CHOWDHURY: Well, as a matter of fact, yes, growing up was very fun so I wanted to live and stay in Bangladesh, but when I grew up, then I was facing the reality and looking around, I see that I wanted to pursue higher education in a place where they have a better education system. So, that was my kind of my thought and also, I wanted to explore the world outside Bangladesh, and then I decided after my high school I decided to go outside.

The first place as a matter of fact, I started exploring the Foreign Cultural Centers in Bangladesh and one was very close to achieving, one was in Chittagong, the French cultural center. I heard about France also and I wanted to explore their culture and I heard that they were very rich with their culture. I want to explore and learn a little bit of French language and applied for student visa from France. I got my visa, I spoke to my father, he agreed so I came to Paris. I studied language then started going to the University of Paris South for the PharmD program for about two years in Paris, I had the opportunity to attend some of American cultural programs. They used to have some programs and looking at their program, it seemed like they are better. I will say in technology and also their presentation looks like they're better than France. I wanted to explore, I wanted to explore America, and the American language, which was also acceptable in most of the places in the world than French.

Then I wanted to explore America and I decided to come to America. When I had my vacation, I came to visit America. After I came here, I decided to stay and pursue my education here in America. In Paris, in France, it was much easier as a student because the education system, the tuition, the government pays the tuition. So, it was much easier, but when I came to America, it was very difficult because I was a foreign student and the tuition had to be paid by me of course and the job that I was getting was minimum salary. It was a challenge because the living expense and then you have to save for the tuition, it was not easy. It was very, very, very difficult. But I wanted to apply and I was determined to go to school. I was trying to find different ways; I worked in different places. Then I finally looked around, see what makes the non-skilled job who makes the most money. So, I found out that driving taxi, they make the most money

MATIN: What was it like for you in New York at this time? Can you tell us a little bit about why you chose New York specifically?

CHOWDHURY: Well, initially because my older brother was in New York so I joined him in New York. I stayed with him for almost a year and then he moved to Maryland. Since in New York, I was able to get a job easily, I stayed in New York and was trying to go to school. I think after one after like, one and a half year I moved in with my brother for a while. We stayed in Maryland for about six months. I worked there for a while. But I found out that in New York you have more opportunity if you struggle of course, to make your living and go to school. I came back to New York and I started driving taxi so I can make some money. Again, I have to also think about my family back home. I used to help them out and that delayed my education a little bit, but that's okay. I was happy that I've been able to help my parents and family back home.

MATIN: How do you adjust to American culture and the American lifestyle after coming to New York?

CHOWDHURY: It was a little difficult because it was easier in New York because you have lots of immigrants in New York, but it was not easy. We couldn't speak English and we did not understand. I couldn't speak English very fluently and I did not understand the American accent. In the beginning, it was a struggle and as I started school, I had some difficulty understanding, even understanding the professor and their lectures. I used to record their lecture, listened to it again and again, but it was time consuming. Then couldn't do that or stick to that either. But as time passed by, I was able to able to handle it better. Yeah, so once I was able to speak better and understand them better. It was easier for me to be part of the it and to adjust to the culture better, I should say.

MATIN: Did you face any discrimination or any other problems when you came here?

CHOWDHURY: Discrimination… not that much, but some discrimination was there. It could be yes, there were some discriminations and basically, what I faced in my workplace is a lack of education. Some people had… even my colleagues, they were not familiar, our culture. They were not very accepting. But as I started mixing with them, they became friendly.

MATIN: What was the hardest part about coming to New York and leaving your family?

CHOWDHURY: It was it was… I always had them in my mind. As a young person, leaving family it’s not that easy leaving your parents. I kept in touch with them as much as I could. But I knew that I have to have to study, I have to do something so I just had to accept it.

MATIN: What do you think was the best thing about it… about coming to New York?

CHOWDHURY: The best thing coming in New York is… especially if you ask me about New York, it is a multicultural place. I feel more comfortable being in New York as far as the struggle, of course, back home, it's easier you have your family and friends, you can communicate easily. Here is not it's not easy. You have to always… language is a barrier and the culture takes time to understand different culture. But slowly, I got used to it. I got used to it. I liked it here in America, in New York. In America equality… people have…they have more equality to say and also in the job you're not discriminated for what you do.

So, if I compare it to Bangladesh… if you're doing something that some labor… some unskilled labor, then it is not being seen as a…I mean people don't have respect for you. But here labor is labor, people don't disrespect because you are doing an unskilled job. So that part was better. I mean, I would say just better because to go to school you have to do an unskilled job and that I would say… this struggle is a struggle, but it was it was better, it was better.

MATIN: Did you go back to Bangladesh and visit your family often?

CHOWDHURY: No, I did not actually, I went back to Bangladesh after about 30 years.
For me, I kept in touch with my families. My goal was to get education and it was difficult to go back because of the expense. Going back to Bangladesh is very expensive. I have to earn my living expense and my tuition; it was a struggle. If I had gone to Bangladesh, I couldn't go to school because I had to work the first job. I mean, one thing is I won't have any savings to pay the tuition. The other thing is the time. Considering all those things, at that time, I couldn't go back to Bangladesh. I stayed in the United States to finish my education. Once I finished my education, I got a job in Jamaica hospital. That time I found… I realized that I should get married.

MATIN: What year was this?

CHOWDHURY: That was ‘95 I would say I started my job in ‘94. I graduated in ‘94. I got an offer at the end of my graduation which was in the end of October or September of 1994. I had a little debt I paid off by ‘95 I realized I should get married. A friend of mine who got married and have children he said what are you doing you should get married. So, I said okay, maybe it's time to think about it, actually my father was also with me at the time, he came to visit us and he used to live with me. He started searching for a girl and I got few proposals there, but I got married in 1996.

MATIN: So, after you got married, did you notice any like gender differences from Bangladeshi men and women? or do you think it was like equal opportunities for them like living in America and in New York?

CHOWDHURY: I mean in in Bangladesh Of course they are gender inequalities. They have… men and women do not have the full opportunity in every sector of life. Women always have to struggle in every area of course, men have the upper hand everywhere. In America, I didn't see that. I mean, to me, because what I saw in back in Bangladesh and what I see in America, of course, there were some, but to me it was better… it was better here. I didn't see that much of gender inequality. In some families, maybe there were, but I was busy with my education so I didn't actually have time to mix with the lots of families.

MATIN: So how do you think your role as a husband and a father have changed over the course of your marriage? How do you think your role as a husband and father have changed since arriving in the United States?

CHOWDHURY: Well, as a matter of fact, since I got married in America, so I left my country in 1984 and I got married in 1996. Which is about 12 years later back home, of course, if I stayed back home, I may because of cultural influence, I probably could have had a different kind of mindset. But after I left my country, and I'm growing up here sometime in Europe and most of the time in the USA, my mindset was not kind of the women should have the same equal rights as men. It really not… it wasn’t any change or anything because I am kind of used to the culture. I got married after 12 years I left my country and again, back home also I felt that… I felt that why should women be considered as lower or anything. Coming to… when I'm seeing here in Europe and in America, I appreciate it… that they there more equality between men and women.

MATIN: What kinds of traditions and customs did you keep from Bangladeshi culture?

CHOWDHURY: The tradition and culture that I kept is like…the food I loved back home. Bangladeshi food, I still enjoy Bangladeshi food. Some American food I do like, but I mostly eat Bangladeshi. Also, keeping in touch with your family, I try to keep in touch with my families, my brothers- they are here, my sister is here.

MATIN: Is there anything you give up? Or what kinds of traditions did you want to pass down to your children that you wanted them to know specifically or to understand about Bangladeshi culture?

CHOWDHURY: Well, they are born here so they're exposed to American culture and they're exposed to some Bangladeshi culture in the house, it is up to them to decide what they like. I can't… I don't want to force… I cannot force anything onto them. But I like them to… to carry on some of the Bangladeshi culture such as, we respect our elders, I like that in Bangladeshi culture we always respect our elders because they are just older. I like my offspring to cherish this… that kind of feelings. But they are you know, that since they are growing up here… so whatever they think is good, they can carry on.

MATIN: So, you talked earlier about food, once you came to New York, were you able to find like halal and Bengali food was that really accessible or was it difficult to find?

CHOWDHURY: I came first there were not that many Bangladeshi stores. It wasn't easy to find halal meat and halal food, but eventually the community grew and now halal food is available everywhere. Yes, when I first emigrated it was difficult to find halal foods there was only one or two stores, we used to try to get food from.

MATIN: Was it difficult to get halal food from those stores?

CHOWDHURY: The store was not close to my house so it was kind of difficult because I didn't have a car at that time. We had to wait for a friend or take a taxi and go to the store, but they had halal meat and we could buy from them.

MATIN: What do you think makes a Bangladeshi? What do you think are considered to be Bangladeshi cultural traits or identity?

CHOWDHURY: I think the food plays a big part in how Bangladeshis cooks, the flavors of the food and sticking together with families. Some of these cultural programs, let’s say independence of Bangladesh, yeah those… like some of these Bangladeshi programs to celebrate them.

MATIN: What do you like about Bangladeshi culture? Do you think Islam influences Bangladeshi culture?

CHOWDHURY: Yes, yes, actually Islam influences Bangladeshi cultures that’s true. We celebrate… during the month of Ramadan we fast and then we celebrate Eid. We do most of the festivals is Islamic. So, those are the parts in Bangladesh that we used to stick to those kinds of festivals and we valued them, this came from Islam. When we came to America those values stayed with us and we value those more than the Bangladeshi like say Independence Day celebrating since we actually celebrate the Islamic holidays. We want to pass that on to our children because we believe that and in America now it gets more easier because of the more Bangladeshi people in the community and they all value those events.

Yes, Islam I mean… you ask this and Islam does play a big role in Bangladeshi culture and when we are here, we want to value that and stick Islamic values. Actually, Bangladeshi culture and Islamic culture they mix together and here we want to stick to the Islamic values and we want to pass that on to our children again, they are here, they are learning so they are on their own… their Bangladeshi American.

MATIN: What do you like about our culture? Do you see do you see any problems with Bangladeshi culture?

CHOWDHURY: Oh, well I don't see any problems with Bangladeshi culture. Since we are Muslim and we value Islamic culture, we stick to Islamic values. So here in America, you have religious freedom. You could practice your religion so you if you want to stick to your religion, other people respect it. Yeah, of course, there's some you know, some people don’t know about it because of the ignorance you get a little bit of discrimination, but you don't have any problems sticking to that concern.

MATIN: Do you consider yourself Bangladeshi or American?

CHOWDHURY: I consider myself a Bangladeshi American.

MATIN: How do you see your identity?

CHOWDHURY: I see as a human. Okay, so I lived in Bangladesh for about say 20 years and here in America probably about 40 years almost… 35 years. Yeah so, I spent most of my time in America. I consider myself… yes, I mean I am a Bangladeshi, I was born in Bangladesh of course, but I lived in America and I consider myself as a Bangladeshi American.

MATIN: What do you think is the difference between being Bangladeshi American and just Bangladeshi? Do you think there's a difference?

CHOWDHURY: Well, Bangladeshi American and Bangladeshi… how do we… Bangladeshi American means that I came from Bangladesh and I'm living here so to identify myself as Bangladeshi American. Compare to someone who is in Bangladesh so of course their thought process, what they like or even the food, there are some differences to me. I do like Bangladeshi food, but then I enjoy American foods such as pizza or burger, spaghetti, and lasagna, I enjoy it. I have no problem, but back home I didn't have those kinds of food.

I guess you know, the thought process also here is I started accepting other people as whatever they are. But if I was in Bangladesh, I probably I would have difficulty accepting people I'm saying that maybe I would have seen it in a different way. But yes, I am accepting here… I easily accept people of other cultures, beliefs, say for example, gay and lesbians, here, I don't have any problems and accept them the way they are. But if I were in Bangladesh, probably I would have a different kind of mindset and I would have probably would have not accepted as easily as I'm doing it here. I think that's because staying here I am being more accepting just like that. Yeah, if I were in Bangladesh maybe I would have had a really hard time accepting people from other beliefs and practices. So that's the one change that I have.

MATIN: After coming to New York and living in New York, where did you meet other Bangladeshi people?

CHOWDHURY: Initially when I came, I was in Staten Island that’s another borough of New York. We did not have that many Bangladeshis over there. A few families from Bangladesh and when there is a cultural program, say birthday or something we would get together. Then in school they had cultural programs so they had Bangladeshi cultural programs and I met Bangladeshi students over there. When I came to Queens, after I got job in Jamaica hospital, when I went to the mosque, I met a lot of Bangladeshi people.

Then there were cultural programs like Boishakhi Mela, which is the beginning of the Bangla new year. There you have lots of Bangladeshi people who go there and I used to meet them. Now as a matter of fact, the community grew so if I go to Hillside Avenue, I see lots of Bangladeshis. But normally, I mean, if there is a program we get together. If I have time, yes, we go to Boishakhi Mela where there are lots of programs, singers come and other families get together.

MATIN: How big did the Bangladeshi community grow in New York, do you think?

CHOWDHURY: Yes, so in 1996 when I moved to Queens, the only time I saw Bangladeshi people was when I went to go pray in the mosque, mostly on Friday during Jumma prayer. Over the time, it started to grow a little and before the congregation was in the basement, slowly when more people like Bangladeshis who brought their families and friends over. Or their friends immigrated and came to Queens and then slowly the mosque committee felt the need to make the mosque bigger. They bought the place and first built a first one story mosque and it’s two. Well, the mosque actually bought the adjacent property and made the mosque bigger. Initially it was one floor then they bought the next space now they built the second floor.

As far as the Bangladeshi grocery store there was only one grocery store and I can't even count how many. As far as Bangladeshi restaurants there was none in the area where I was living. Which is Jamaica, Queens and now there are so many Bangladeshi restaurants so the community grew. When I came in 96 and I worked in Hillside Avenue, you couldn't meet… you didn't meet any Bangladeshi now if I go to Hillside Avenue between 160 and 159 there are lots of Bangladeshi on the street. The street that runs from Hillside Avenue… as a matter of fact, the Homelawn Street runs from Hillside Avenue to the North that name is now changed to “Little Bangladesh”. The street that runs in front of Jamaica Muslim Center, which is 168 street is renamed “Jamaica Muslim Center Way” (JAMC Way) so yes, lots of change happened and the community grew a lot.

MATIN: Were you part of any organizations?

CHOWDHURY: As far as organizations yes, I'm part of Jamaica Muslim Center, member of the Jamaica Muslim Center. I kind of stay busy with my own profession, which I'm a respiratory therapist and raising my family. I actually didn't join any of the… there one for Chittagong… I’m from Chittagong…so they have the Chittagong Samiti (organization or association) then of course Bangladesh Samiti also. I go to some of the programs like the Bangladeshi community program called, FOBANA (Foundation of Bangladeshi Association in North America) but I'm not a member. I became a member of the Jamaica Muslim Center.

MATIN: Did you witness or see any struggles or challenges of the Bangladeshi community in New York?

CHOWDHURY: Struggle means that… the Bangladeshi community, people from Bangladesh, they have hard time trying to understand English. When they come here… the immigrants they have to do nonskilled labor. Which is not easy to maintain a family while doing unskillful jobs. Then, you know, they have to go to school and earn an education. So, I have seen families who struggle, they got an education and they got a better job. I still know families that are struggling because they have very low income. They do the unskilled labor and try to finish a program. So economically, I will say yes, I have I seen lots of Bangladeshi immigrant families who are struggling because if you don't have economy strength than you have to go through the struggle.

MATIN: Growing up in Bangladesh, were you told of any stories of the time when Britain still had control over the Bengal region?

CHOWDHURY: We heard about… we studied a little bit of the stories in school and we heard stories from our elders. Yes, when the British came to India which is Bangladesh was part of the Indian subcontinent. They forced the Indian people which is also included Bangladeshi people to cultivate things that they liked, such as, they didn't want them to cultivate rice, they wanted to grow something different. Then from my grandparents, I heard that they used to collect taxes and they had to go ahead and give the tax to the British government. Yeah, so they lost their independence.

MATIN: Were you told anything about the Partition?

CHOWDHURY: The partition, like you're saying that the partition between Pakistan and India. Well, when the British was leaving India, they proposed a partition and I heard that lots of families were devastated because the partition separated the families. Maybe one brother stayed on one side of the Partition and the other brother was on the other side of Partition. Also, I heard about religion being a big issue because of the Muslims and Hindus. Hindus were from India, some of them they wanted to go to Pakistan and Muslims… sorry, Hindus wanted to go to India and Muslims wanted to come to Pakistan. There were civil wars and that’s what I heard from my father.

MATIN: Do you know anything or did you see things when Bangladesh was East Pakistan and under West Pakistan’s control?

CHOWDHURY: Yeah, West Pakistan used to control East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). The students when they went to school they had to speak Urdu which was the language of West Pakistan. In East Pakistan the language has been Bangla, the mother tongue is Bangla. They wanted them to speak Urdu and there was an uprise and lots of people lost their life. It is called “Vasha Andolon” during this lots of life was lost because they wanted to protest and didn't want to speak Urdu.

I heard that there was no… like the embassy… so when the foreign cultural centers, the embassy were not in East Pakistan, but all the way in West Pakistan. If somebody wanted to travel to a foreign country, they had to go to West Pakistan to apply for a visa, which was extremely difficult. Also, people in Bangladesh, who the product they used to make in Bangladesh it would go to West Pakistan. It was cheaper in West Pakistan, than East Pakistan, which is Bangladesh. It was cheaper in West Pakistan. Also, there was no representation for people in Bangladesh. I was I was young, but I heard this.

MATIN: What are your thoughts or opinion about the 1971 Bangladesh genocide?

CHOWDHURY: My thought it was horrible. Pakistan, people from Pakistan, they are Muslim, and people from Bangladesh, the majority is Muslim. But the people from West Pakistan were oppressing people in East Pakistan and they wanted the representation. West Pakistan denied their representation in the government so when the people from Bangladesh… the leadership under Sheikh Mujibur Rahman wanted representation and West Pakistan said no and that’s how the war broke out. The West Pakistani army came and did genocide in East Pakistan, this is not justified. It's wrong. It's morally wrong.

MATIN: Do you know anyone who left East Pakistan and took refuge in India during the Civil War?

CHOWDHURY: Since I was very young, I do not know. I'm sure there are people who went to India, maybe some, but I heard that people from Bangladesh went to India to get trained to fight to become a freedom fighter. As a matter of fact, yes, one of my uncles he went to India and got trained. He became a freedom fighter so he fought against the West Pakistani army. As far as him going to India, I didn't hear anything like that. But they were at that time… they were targeting the young people, young generation and they wanted to kill them. So, most of the young generation, the young people moved to India to get trained, to become freedom fighters and they came back to fight against the army of West Pakistan.

MATIN: Do you know anything else about your uncle's experiences in the war? Were you ever told stories about that?

CHOWDHURY: I was… I was very young and then again by the age of 20, I have left Bangladesh. My uncle, I mean he got trained on to how to fight. He had a weapon and he fought against the army of West Pakistan. They took on lots of challenges and some of his friends, they even become took their… risked their own life to go underneath ships to blow them up. I'm sure some of them lost their lives also trying to do that.

MATIN: Do you remember what you were taught about Bangladeshi’s history? Do you remember the famine that occurred Bangladesh in 1974?

CHOWDHURY: Yes, I was very young at that time. I remember that we went door to door to collect donations and bring them to those who are organizing support for those family. Yes, I remember… even though I was young, we felt so bad. We went door to door trying to collect some donations, whatever it was, food, money and then bring it to the older chiefs. They were were going to take them to the places.

MATIN: What were you taught about Bangladeshi’s history in school?

CHOWDHURY: Actually, in Bangladesh, we didn't have that kind of story. So very little at that time, we were taught a little bit of the British, the British coming to India and how the Indians got together and wanted to fight against the British. The separation…the British leaving India. As far as Bangladeshi culture, we did not have any education or anything. I think like after I left, they started a little bit of stories and read history. As part of history, we were studying the dynasties… different dynasties, and the history of early Indians like Nawab Siraj ud-Daulah and how he struggled. His struggles with the British and how they wished to have subdued Nawab Siraj ud-Daulah, those kinds of stories actually.

MATIN: Why do you think that was? Do you think there was just a lack of supplies or resources?

CHOWDHURY: You mean, why we were not introduced to it to Bangladeshi culture? As far as Bangladeshi culture we learn at home by being with families and relatives. Uniquely because Bangladesh was newly founded it took time for even the those who were thinking about… who were teachers to bring some kind of education into the school system to teach the students.

So, when we were growing up, we took the history… we learned was like how they have the different kings who ruled India and how the British came over. Then the British left Pakistan, and the war between Bangladesh and Pakistan. It took some time I guess to get those who were involved with the school system to come up with some kind of program to teach the kids. So, we were not introduced the pure Bangladeshi history or anything.

MATIN: What do you find most important about Bangladeshi’s history? What resonates with you a lot?

CHOWDHURY: The education we got was in the Bengali language. Bengali is my mother tongue. So, all of my education throughout high school was in Bengali. English was only the literature part which was introduced and later taught to us. Growing up and spending time with family, the food these are all like Bangladeshi cultures. My values that I learned are from Bangladesh. Being part of like, say, okay, my parents, even after I got married, my father was living with me, then my mother came and lived with me also. I did not feel that my privacy was compromised or anything since my father was living with me and my mother was living with me and so that I think is Bangladeshi culture that was in me.
Whenever I spoke to my father, he said that he wanted to leave with me and didn’t want to stay in a nursing home. I understood. Back home in Bangladesh, when the families stay together when they grow up, they don't really send their older parents to the nursing homes. Both my father and mother, lived with me until my father passed away this January 2022. I felt that's okay…that he lived with the family, stayed with his grandchildren, his grandchildren really loved him and he loved his grandchildren. So that was important for me too because that's the value that I learned being in Bangladesh.

MATIN: Did you hear of any Bangladeshis going to the Middle East in order to seek jobs?

CHOWDHURY: When I was growing up, I heard that Bangladeshi families and some Bangladeshis they are going to Middle East to earn more money, so they can have a better life in Bangladesh. They were able to go over to the Middle East to earn more money and improve their lifestyle in Bangladesh.

MATIN: Do you know how they were treated Middle East? Do you know how they were treated in the Middle East? Their experiences in the Middle East? Have you heard of anything?

CHOWDHURY: Since I was young, I did not have that kind of thought and didn't really ask them about those questions. But I kind of came to know that going to the Middle East they were doing shared nonskilled jobs. You know doing nonskilled job is not easy, but how they got treated to be honest with you, at the time, I did not have that kind of thoughts so I didn't ask those questions.

MATIN: Did you ever learn about New York or the United States history in school in Bangladesh?

CHOWDHURY: No, we were not introduced any history of America in schools. But sometimes we had some of this presentation, like going to moon, those kinds of presentations, I think they are from American institutes coming into the community. They had some of these programs so I was able to go experience and learn about those things. Of course, how those were a big step forward for humans. But we didn’t learn in schools actually.

MATIN: What was the immigration process like for you?

CHOWDHURY: The immigration process was… as I came as a student, so my brother sponsored me. But when I came in the United States after you know, after looking at the culture, everything like equality, respect for other people. I wanted to live in the United States and again in New York too because it is a multicultural place. I wanted to live here permanently and explored the possibilities. There are different immigrant processes, one of this is the skilled person. I wanted to pursue that and earn and education. I had to go to lawyers in order to do everything.

MATIN: What was it like working with other groups of people once you came to New York?

CHOWDHURY: Working with other groups of people, okay so when I was driving taxi, I got discriminated by like Spanish speaking people. They really didn't… I guess… you know, this is… they were not I mean, they were not educated. In that kind of area when I used to go around those kinds of neighborhood to pick up passenger, so they're like coming into our neighborhood. I figured out that they weren't like me. So, I moved to the area where I can… you know… most of the people are like my kind of people.

But when I became a respiratory therapist and now, I'm working with all different kinds of people and cultures, I don't feel discrimination or any problems. It is interesting to learn about different cultures and people. I am open and it's not the same. People I work with different people from different cultures. I'm open to understand. Now that I am in the management position, we hire new newly graduates. We hire people from different cultures. It’s kind of easy accepting people and how they are. It is kind of interesting… I find it is interesting. We all work together and learn. I learned about them and they learned about me. Actually, we should be melting it together and going forward with one goal, which is being American.

MATIN: What was the naturalization process like for you?

CHOWDHURY: It was a struggle because you know, if I didn’t go to school, I wouldn't even think about how I would go through and become a permanent resident. I didn't, I don't know. Okay, one of the ways is getting married to someone here what they say is contract marriage. A concept that I hated. I had one friend who actually in France with me at the same university. He came and then got into a contract marriage with a woman, he got help from other friends in order to get married. It was easy for him. He became a permanent resident. He kept on bothering me. He would say oh, that's fine to have a contract marriage for you. You just have to pay them blah, blah, blah. But I hated that. I hated the consequences. I don't…this is not for me. I can't imagine doing that.

I chose the hardest part, I said, nope, I'm going to get an education. They need skilled labor and I'm going to do that no matter what. I was determined, I worked hard and I was successful.

MATIN: What do you still remember about your life in Bangladesh? What do you miss about Bangladesh? I know you said you missed the food a little earlier.

CHOWDHURY: Fresh foods… yeah well most of my relatives, even though my brothers, my mom and dad are here. Some of my friends are here, but most of them are in Bangladesh. So, I do miss my relatives and friends. It is a big gap in growing up back home, swimming in the pond, catching fish, of course, you can catch fish here too. I don't have twins. When I was young, I used to climb trees. But you know, those kinds of memories. I miss them… going to see families you always had time. If you haven't gone and see your family, they would say, “oh you didn't come, why didn’t we see you.” This is like part of tradition just to go and see your families. I liked it. This is kind of weird here because everybody is busy. Before you go, you have to call to make an appointment. But back home, you just go and knock on their door and then they are welcoming, “hey, come sit down. You know… I haven't seen you for a long time. You know what's going on?” Yeah, those kinds of things I think I miss it.

MATIN: What was your favorite memory of Bangladesh?

CHOWDHURY: Favorite memory was playing soccer. Growing up, it was fun over there. My memory, spending time with my grandmother. My grandmother was so naive. I would just tell her anything and she would believe it. She used to ask me because they didn't have TV and the radio concept was still very new for them. Especially, I'm talking about my grandmother. My grandmother used to say when we played the radio, who is singing? and I said there is someone behind that radio, she’s singing. I had two uncles and it was time to find a woman (marriage wise) for them. I used to tell my grandmother, “See there is a girl right behind this radio who is singing and you see how sweet she's singing. She's very pretty.” She would say, “so why don't you know see if she could marry your uncle.” I said, “yes, I am going to.” She used to be so naïve that she believed me.

MATIN: How did you keep track of events that took place in Bangladesh after you left?

CHOWDHURY: By reading newspapers and talking to family. We also listened to news and subscribed to Bangladeshi news. It's busy life here whenever I had time I would sit down and listen to it.

MATIN: Is there anything you would change about your life or your immigration journey coming to America?

CHOWDHURY: Well, I want to change lots of things if I have a second chance. I accept my life I don't have any regrets because I believe that your fate is controlled by your Creator. I don't regret and I'm happy about how it took place. But if I have a second chance growing up, I never studied and only played so I would have studied a little better. I mean do things in a different way.

But I don't regret actually coming to America. Economically, like when you say better life, do you mean economically? I didn't really think about the economy at that time. But I wanted to get a better education. I knew that in America and Europe they have better education system and I will be able to get better education, moving away from Bangladesh. I mean that’s what drove me out of Bangladesh and I'm happy. I'm happy that I came to Europe and subsequently to America. Yes, they have better education.

MATIN: What accomplishments are you most proud of?

CHOWDHURY: I have a job, I've been able to provide for my family, I provided from my parents. So those are kind of I think the accomplishments for me. I am helping the community. I always wanted to help out others so the profession that I chose, you know, respiratory therapy, I am a respiratory therapist. Even during the pandemic time, we helped people. Throughout my career I helped people who are struggling with life and death, and we go ahead and help them out. So I'm happy. I'm happy that I am able to help the community.

Collection: Subat Matin Oral History Interviews
Donor: Subat Matin
Item History: 2023-04-07 (created); 2023-04-07 (modified)

* This digital object may not be sold or redistributed, copied or distributed as a photograph, electronic file, or any other media without express written consent from the copyright holder and the South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA). The user is responsible for all issues of copyright. If you are the rightful copyright holder of this item and its use online constitutes an infringement of your copyright, please contact us by email at to discuss its removal from the archive.