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Mohammed Sufian Oral History Interview

Oral history interview with Mohammed Sufian on July 11th, 2022, conducted by Subat Matin. Mohammed Sufian was born in Sandwip, Bangladesh and first immigrated to the United States in 1989. He came through a visit visa with his wife and had to leave behind his four children in order to establish his life in America first. Sufian talks about the difficulties of living in a new country while his children were in Bangladesh and how hard it was having to be separated from them. Sufian talks about his life in New York and how he had to begin working in order to make enough money which led him to working in construction and creating his business. Mohammed Sufian praises Allah for his successes and is happily living in Brooklyn with his family.

Date: July 11, 2022
Type: Oral History
Creator: Subat Matin
Location: Brooklyn, NY

Date: July 11th, 2022
Interviewee: Mohammed Sufian
Interviewer: Subat Matin
Location: Brooklyn, New York

MATIN: Today is July 11th, 2022, tell me your life story.
SUFIAN: My date of birth is 7/15/1943, I am born in Bangladesh When I was younger...
MATIN: Name?
SUFIAN: My name is Mohammed Sufian. I was born in Bangladesh, when I was younger my mother passed away and I was very young. I have two younger brothers, one passed and I had a sister and she also passed away. Now it’s just two of us brothers. Us two brothers... my brother also lives in America and I am also in America. In my childhood I had... my father was abroad and I... my uncles used to watch us. They used take care of me. Then slowly as I grew up, I went to my uncle and did my education there. Then when I got married, I was in desh. Then slowly I started to do businesses here and there and coming to abroad I didn’t have anything. Think that before coming to abroad I didn’t really want to. I didn’t even think that with my education I would be able to raise my family. Then slowly when I started to prepare to come abroad, it was very difficult, but I went to Dubai. Then after coming back from Dubai, I tried to come America.
MATIN: What did you do in Dubai?
SUFIAN: In Dubai I worked under a construction company and I stayed there for three years before coming back.
MATIN: In Dubai were there other Bangladeshi people?
SUFIAN: Yes, there were a lot of people, many of my friends were also there and they all lived there. When there was way to come here then I came back from Dubai to desh. Then coming back to desh I tried a few times even after trying I couldn’t find any roads to come. I actually came to America twice and couldn’t stay, I had to leave. Then, my brothers-in-law were here and they... my brother-in-law sponsored me. After he sponsored me, along with my wife I was able to get a visa from the American embassy and come here.
MATIN: In Bangladesh what kinds of businesses did you do?
SUFIAN: I had a grocery store, I used to look over those and then I had my families business I looked over those too, I used to farm. Those were the small work that we used to do. Then after all the hard work thank Allah, we are happy and then slowly we came abroad. After coming here with my wife, we both came together, she was here and so was I. Then I came that time with a visit visa because I didn’t have green card. I struggled a lot for my green card and afterwards thank Allah at the end... but my dad was here and he also sponsored us for a green card. Then afterwards we got our green card and when we got our green card, I was able to live here and visit desh and went back and forth from here to desh. Later my wife passed away and I am here working. Then later I brought over my children and they came. Now everyone is here and living one or another, thank God.
MATIN: When you were in Bangladesh, did you know about America or American culture?
SUFIAN: No, here, I struggled a lot to come to America, everyone is here, my dad and brother he also came before me. My father-in-law and mother-in-law they were also here. I saw that everyone came here so I wanted to try. Then I am good now thank God. Slowly I am working and I go visit desh.
MATIN: Why did you want to immigrate to New York? Why did you come to New York?
SUFIAN: Everyone is here in New York that’s why.
MATIN: After coming to New York what kinds of experiences did you have?
SUFIAN: Yes, I had experiences. Everyone is here and I saw that everyone was living happily together, everyone was in New York.
MATIN: When you saw America and Americans what did you think, how did you feel?
SUFIAN: Yes, American people, Bangladeshi people, Indian people, we are friends with everyone and worked with them.
MATIN: What do you like about New York?
SUFIAN: I like New York because of the way people are here and everything here is fine, no problems or anything.
MATIN: When you first came to America, what year did you come?
SUFIAN: I came in 1989 in December.
MATIN: When you came then what kinds of jobs did you do?
SUFIAN: When I came, I worked in construction, my father-in-law had a construction business, my father had a construction business so I worked with everyone that time after coming here.
MATIN: After coming here did you ever face any discrimination from Americans?
SUFIAN: No, I never faced anything like that.
MATIN: Everyone was good.
SUFIAN: Yes, everyone was good, their behavior and attitudes, everything was good. No one bothered each other.
MATIN: Did you choose to speak English or not?
SUFIAN: English... well while I lived in desh I knew a little and when I lived abroad, I used English and after coming here I also had to use English. After speaking in English with everyone here I was able to learn.
MATIN: While living in Bangladesh in school did, they ever teach you about American history? Or the American language?
SUFIAN: No, that time there was not a lot.
MATIN: After coming here, how often did you visit Bangladesh to see your family? Who did you leave there?
SUFIAN: I left my sons and daughter and the two of us came here. Then they stayed in desh and got their education and slowly... they got their education and we stayed here. We never left from here and stayed. Then slowly when we visited desh, I got my children married, after they got married slowly, I brought them here.
MATIN: While living in Bangladesh how did you contact your children and other relatives?
SUFIAN: We talked on the phone and if there was anyone going to desh we contacted through them too.
MATIN: What do you do now in America?
SUFIAN: Now I am retired and I stay with children and live my life. Now I don’t have the capability to work anymore.
MATIN: Do you consider America or Bangladesh your home now?
SUFIAN: My home is in America and in Bangladesh.
MATIN: Which one do you think is your nationality, you stayed here for years and also lived in Bangladesh, which one do you think is your most...
SUFIAN: Now I think that I’m in America and everything is here, I like it, everyone is here and in desh I don’t have anyone anymore, everyone came here.
MATIN: When you first came here how did your role as a husband and father change compared to when you were in Bangladesh?
SUFIAN: After coming here everything changed. When I lived in Bangladesh it was different... and after coming here being with everyone and socializing changed.
MATIN: What did your wife do?
SUFIAN: She worked at home, she didn’t have a job. Only I just worked.
MATIN: What kinds of work did she do at home?
SUFIAN: She used to cook, take care of everyone.
MATIN: After coming to America what kinds of Bangladeshi culture and traditions did you want to pass down and teach your kids?
SUFIAN: They learned from desh and after coming here they also learned. They all worked here, everyone stayed together, we are still together.
MATIN: What do you want to teach your grandchildren about Bangladeshi culture?
SUFIAN: They don’t want to go to Bangladesh at all. My grandchildren go, but then they come back, they always like it here.
MATIN: How do you feel about that?
SUFIAN: I really like living here too.
MATIN: After coming here did you or your family face any difficulties or problems?
SUFIAN: No, we didn’t have any difficulties and hopefully won’t have any either.
MATIN: What kinds of struggles did you face after coming here?
SUFIAN: No, I didn’t have any struggles...
MATIN: When you first came?
SUFIAN: When I first came then it was a bit hard, it was a struggle. When we first came here then thank Allah, everything was fine, everything is good and living nicely.
MATIN: What do you think makes a Bangladeshi? What kinds of qualities, culture should they have in order to be a Bangladeshi?
SUFIAN: Bangladeshi culture if you think about it... it was there as well and here too. Living in Bangladesh I followed Bangladeshi culture and here too.
MATIN: What did you do here for Bangladeshi culture?
SUFIAN: Living in Bangladesh and getting an education slowly I started to look over my businesses and I didn’t do anything else.
MATIN: After first coming here, what kinds of food did you find? Bengali food...
SUFIAN: No after coming here we ate Bengali food and we found everything from Bangladesh and we ate Bangladeshi food.
MATIN: Where did you find halal foods from? Was it difficult to find halal foods?
SUFIAN: Yes, halal food... it used to be written and we bought halal food from the stores and cook at home, ate at home, ate outside very less.
MATIN: You said that at first your father came here, tell me a little about him.
SUFIAN: He came a long time ago. He came during Pakistani rule, they were in ships in “nolees” and came that way. When they first came here, they struggled a lot because no was here. Slowly after everyone else started coming they met with people and then they... once they had got to know everyone... first they struggled a lot after coming here.
MATIN: Did they tell you what kinds of struggles they faced?
SUFIAN: Struggles as in no one was here, they didn’t have anywhere to live after coming here, they stayed with black people and grew up in that [American] culture because that time there was no Bengali people, there were a few of them, mostly it was just a few of them.
MATIN: What do you think is the difference between those who are Bangladeshi-American and just Bangladeshi? Do you think there is a difference?
SUFIAN: No, there isn’t a difference now everyone is...
MATIN: When you first came to America did you meet other Bangladeshi people and talk to them?
SUFIAN: When I came, I saw everyone and talked to them. After we came people came to see us.
MATIN: Where did you guys hangout?
SUFIAN: Hangout... that time there was Church Avenue, there was Bangladeshi stores and restaurants there. Most of the time we used to hang out there.
MATIN: Please tell me about Church Avenue and about Bangladeshi people culture?
SUFIAN: There everyone spoke Bangla, all the Bangladeshis were there and everyone meets each other.
MATIN: When you first here in 89’ was Church Avenue then...
SUFIAN: Oh, then there was none, there was not a lot of people. Now there is a lot of Bengalis, a lot of stores, but back then there was not a lot.
MATIN: Are you part of any Bangladeshi organizations here?
SUFIAN: No, I am just with everyone.
MATIN: Are you part of any associations? Like Bangladeshi associations?
SUFIAN: There is association, there is society, we are with everyone.
MATIN: Do you participate in those associations?
SUFIAN: No, I don’t do much.
MATIN: When you used to go to school in Bangladesh as kid, what did you learn about Bangladesh’s history?
SUFIAN: That time I went to school in Bangladesh, I had to study and also watch over my family. Then I didn’t have anyone, my dad wasn’t there, my mom wasn’t there only my uncles were there, I lived with them, they used to watch over everything.
MATIN: In school did you learn about when Britain had control over the Bengal region?
SUFIAN: No, they didn’t.
MATIN: Did they teach you guys about the war in Bangladesh?
SUFIAN: Yes, we were there when the war was happening, I had a store in desh and even in Chittagong and I used to travel to both during the war. I had to come to Chittagong and in desh while the war was going on I traveled back and forth from Chittagong.
MATIN: During the war what was your life like?
SUFIAN: Then the mukti bahini lived in our houses in Chittagong and Sandwip. They camped in our home and stayed there while also fighting, seeing if anything was occurring near us.
MATIN: What is your opinion about the war?
SUFIAN: That time I only thought about how we can make Bangladesh independent that’s the only thing.
MATIN: Tell me little about that.
SUFIAN: Yeah, we just slowly... when Bangladesh got independence... everything was...
MATIN: Did you know anyone who left Bangladesh and went to India because of the war?
SUFIAN: I had a lot of friends they went.
MATIN: Did you know anyone who fought in the war?
SUFIAN: Yes, I know some next to our house two people even died while fighting, there was other who lived in... they also died.
MATIN: When there was a famine in Bangladesh in 1974, what memory do you have of it of the Bangladesh famine?
SUFIAN: Then I was in America...
MATIN: Famine as in when in Bangladesh there was a lot of rain, no food, in 1974?
SUFIAN: We didn’t...
MATIN: The durbhikho [famine]
SUFIAN: We didn’t struggle during that and we had our own farming, we didn’t really get affected.
MATIN: Did you know anyone who were affected though?
SUFIAN: Yes, the people who were poor would come to our house and we gave them food.
MATIN: You first said that you went to Dubai to work, why did so many Bangladeshis go to the Middle East, in Dubai to work?
SUFIAN: That time in Dubai there was a lot of people who worked there and we liked working there because we were together and worked under a company.
MATIN: What jobs did you do over there?
SUFIAN: I used to work in construction there.
MATIN: While living in Dubai how did you the people there treat you?
SUFIAN: We had Bengali people there and there was Bengali company and stayed with them.
MATIN: Did you like your life in the Middle East?
SUFIAN: Middle East that time it was okay, I stayed there however I could. Life... wherever you go you have to adjust your life.
MATIN: When you first came to America what kinds of jobs did you work?
SUFIAN: I worked... my brothers-in-law worked in construction so I worked with them.
MATIN: Did you just work construction?
MATIN: Did you hear about Bangladeshis going to other countries other than America?
SUFIAN: People did go to other countries, but some of them want to come here and try to come here.
MATIN: What was your favorite memory of Bangladesh? Or have?
SUFIAN: I have my family and being able to see them. Everyone lived together and stayed together perfectly fine.
MATIN: What do you miss about Bangladesh?
SUFIAN: I can’t choose...
MATIN: How did you find out about events that happened in Bangladesh?
SUFIAN: We listened to the news, watched, we just listened to the news. When I first came here then I used to hang around with people and stayed together. No one was bothered, everyone lived nicely. My children that time couldn’t come and we came through a visit visa so they didn’t have any scope of coming here. Then slowly after we came here and the paperwork was done then I was able to bring them here and thank Allah they all came here.
MATIN: After coming to America, what is your proudest moment?
SUFIAN: No proud... everyone is here and I am with everyone. I don’t really have a proud moment.

Collection: Subat Matin Oral History Interviews
Donor: Subat Matin
Item History: 2023-05-30 (created); 2023-06-01 (modified)

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