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Humayon Kabir Oral History Interview

Oral history interview with Humayon Kabir on July 17th, 2022, conducted by Subat Matin. Humayon Kabir was born in Sandwip, Bangladesh and immigrated to the United States in 1983. Humayon came with a visit visa and almost immediately began working. He worked a construction job alongside his father and brothers and eventually established his own construction business. Kabir talks about how difficult life in America was after he first immigrated here due to being afraid of immigration officers, language barrier and strenuous work he endured every week. Kabir had a dream to go back to Bangladesh again since that is his motherland, but after his children were born that became impossible, he wanted his children to grow up in this country. Kabir is proud of his work ethic and the difficulties he faced along the way helped him get to where he is today. Humayon Kabir currently lives in Brooklyn with his wife and children.

Date: July 17, 2022
Type: Oral History
Creator: Subat Matin
Location: Brooklyn, NY

Date: July 17th, 2022
Interviewee: Humayon Kabir
Interviewer: Subat Matin
Location: Brooklyn, New York

MATIN: Today is July 17th, 2022, tell me your life story.

KABIR: My name is Mohammed Humayon Kabir, I am Bangladeshi and in 1983, August 9th I came to America and I came together with my family and brought everyone over, my mom, my sister-in-law, kids, I brought everyone and came to New York because my father and older brother lived here so I was interested in coming to America and I tried for different things to try to come here. First with a. student visa, that didn’t happen and then I came on a visit visa on 1983, 9 August to India with my family, we came on Air India, Bangladesh to India and from there Air India to New York, I came on a visit visa, with my mom, sister-in-law and her tow kids. From then that’s when my life begins, first my father came to pick us from JFK airport in New York and them my father took my family to 42nd Manhattan Street where he used to live, I think 484 something, so live moves on like that. My middle brother first came, my older brother and then me. Then my lifestyle begins and the first day I rest, and the next day my father brought me to work, he brought us over by train on the first day and then tells me that your job is going to begin and that time there was not a lot of Bengali people.

So, when we came about 40-50 people come to see us at home, that time there was not even 10% of Bengali people. Then my father woke us up in the morning and tells us that, here are the work that we have to do. The first day I was trained meaning that I saw everything, and everyone introduced themselves. Then the next day in the evening, he says that I have t go home by myself and I was new so he put me on a train and our house was on 42nd so I get off and I suddenly see that is not my station and I to Queens. So, I got on the train again and I got to 42nd street to my house and was able to get home. From then on, my lifestyle started, every day was work from morning until evening. I worked like that for a while with my father and my middle brother he was the main boss and my father was almost going to retire... Then after every day I took wo trains and come back and they leave early. They gave us lunch and we were new so we couldn’t eat the lunch because we were new and couldn’t eat that style of food because in desh our food was different. My father used to always help and told us that we had to work and if we weren’t working there would be no other way to survive here. That time it was not enough to start either, there were options, but because people were scared no one knew.

So, my father had a friend and always used to tell me that go get enrolled in school and because were scared we didn’t go and he used to tell us every day so working everyday I became used to it and my father was the oldest in our family so it was not possible for everyone to live together. Then my father bought a house in 353 Prospect Avenue and built a house there, only $40,000. So the first night we didn’t have a closing for our house, but after the closing he told me stay by myself at the house and gave me the keys and told me that I had to stay here. I asked why and he said that since we closed the house today so I stayed by myself at the house. There was a small room and at night I couldn’t sleep because I was scared. The two or three days all my family from Manhattan came and we moved to Brooklyn. We had a business, my brothers, so I used to work and for one year I worked with everyone and everything like how to paint... then one week later, his house was in Queens and my father took me to Ahmed, he came a long time ago, he told me to go to school, I said where should I go to school? From desh I first started learning Arabic and then I went to night college and I didn’t stay there for long and after coming here they told me that I had to read a, b, c, ds and I said what am I going to do by learning a, b, c, ds, but I still enrolled in school at night, not during the day. After going to class for a few days and they taught me a, b, c, ds... and I said what am I going to do learning this so then my mentality I didn’t want to do it. They told me when I slowly start to learn it, they will put me in another level. In my mind I thought all these years, 7-8 years, 10-12 years, after studying and now I have learn a, b, c, ds again. But I still studied there for a month or two, I didn’t let it go. I was also scared of immigration and what they would do, because there was always a fear of them. Then my father... the guy told me enroll in that school and I left, but he always used to tell me to enroll in school, the job that your father is doing don’t do it. I saw that the easiest is construction and nothing else. So, my father brought me to work every day, gave me lunch from home, during the day I couldn’t eat anything.

But when we moved to Brooklyn in Prospect Avenue we got lunch, my oldest sister-in-law used to make lunch for everyone and we didn’t eat out anymore. We used to come home eat lunch and then go back to work, it went on like that for a few years. After the years went by and we lived there for a while, then one day in the morning we were in 12th Street and corner of 6th Ave, I was driving in the morning and I sent people to work and then I see immigration people were there. They somehow knew or someone called them, they arrested 12 people. After they were arrested, we all left, they came and asked us if we had anything, I just I don’t have anything and just came with a visit visa, they asked me when I came and I said August 9th and then they didn’t say anything to us, they took us 26 Federal Plaza on the eighth floor, there were other people there with and told them they are our workers, they also asked me if they were my workers and I said yes. My car was on 12th Street and corner of 6th Ave where I parked my car, I got in my car and my father was waiting and my father said when they opened the door and saw immigration. My father left and he took me and asked what I have and I said I don’t have any documents and he asked me how I came and I said I came on a visit visa B2 visa. They took us to federal Plaza and gave us breakfast.

Then a few people... they said that some people don’t know English would you be able to say something and I said yes whatever is needed I will help them. They said that we needed to post bail, who’s going to give the bail... they were saying that one week passed by and we don’t the need money for bail, they asked us for details like our house address, picture and passport, give us those. I didn’t have any of those with me and I can give it later. So, they told me to leave and I asked where am I supposed to go because I thought I had to go to jail since everyone goes to jail. My friend was with me and he was married and they let him go too, so I didn’t have anything, but my friend was married and he had a contract marriage so they saw his document and let him go. They told him to leave so I told my friend since you are going home can you take my car keys just park my car and lock it. I gave him the car keys and he took my keys... when they first arrested us my older brother was there... my brother left his car at the stop sign so I told the officer that this also my car, I don’t know who brought it here, my older brother didn’t have his license then so when he left the car at the stop sign, I told the officer this is our car, I have to park. He told me okay I’m going to go with you and I said come no problem. So, I parked the car and the office brought me back and he told me to go back home. When he said to go home, I didn’t understand him clearly and I thought and heard from everyone and my father that time if they caught you, you wouldn’t be able to leave without bail, tale you to court and you needed to post bail. He told me you go home, I didn’t understand the home part, I thought that maybe it was jail. I asked him which way should I go and he told me to go out this way, once he told me to leave... he said go exit and go out. After he said that I went downstairs and got on the train and quickly came to Brooklyn. I called everyone and asked how many people were still left and it turns out they let all of us go one by one, all 12 of us. They gave me a court date on a paper and told me that I have to take the lawyer and three months later I have to come to court. Then we came back and got a lawyer later and he said it’s okay and that he will what he needs to and for us to continue our work.

That is how my life story starts. Then everyone was telling me that... meaning it had already been one year for me here. After one year they told me that I have to leave the country. To leave the country I didn’t... they told me that there was two ways since you came with a visit visa you didn’t go back so they said if you do an arranged marriage or get married then you can stay in this country the lawyer told me. I tried to get an arranged marriage here, I was young 18... 20 or 21 years old no one really agreed, but because they had told me I tried to do it. My lawyer told me that if I got married in an easy processing like a contract marriage or anything than we can arrange for you to stay here. That’s when... I had a driver and I told him about it and he said okay I can arrange a contract marriage for you. It was hard, but I did a contract marriage and my lawyer said that within six months I should I have my papers since I came here legally. So, we tried that and it didn’t work and it had been 9-10 years later in 1991 when I legally got my green card and did my interview.

Then in Bangladesh... with my father I told him I want to go to Bangladesh and tried to cut our tickets on the same flight, my dad... that time there was Bangladesh Biman, but there were other airlines. My father and I couldn’t get tickets together so I went to London and with my father got on Bangladesh Biman from there, my father went to London and I came on Bangladesh Biman, then the two of us go to Bangladesh together. I went for 15... one month in Bangladesh. After going to Bangladesh my father... my mother was there too and she was really happy and did everything for me. I had my whole family there and my... Jesmin you know, you know our brother-in-law., my friend, all of us... in Bangladesh it was a lot... everyone was happy to see us. Then in Bangladesh in Dhaka I told my friend that for a long time... Jesmin was here so about thirty of go on a tour of Dhaka. That time I only had a week left before it was time for me to leave Bangladesh, my mother said where are you going to go while leaving me here, then... I said I’m going to visit Dhaka and then it was time for my flight. My mother always used to tell me that without her I couldn’t go anywhere. That’s why I also brought my mom with me because I promised her. I brought my mom two or three times before to New York, but she never stayed and would leave.

After going to Bangladesh, a week before I’m getting all of my clothes ready then my mother got sick. After she got sick, they brought her to Dhaka we also came back from Dhaka at night. When I came back, I saw that my mother was sick so my mother used to say if she ever goes to the hospital, she doesn’t want Allah bringing her back. We had our regular doctor there and the doctor said we have to take to her to the hospital and there is no other way. We all back to Dhaka and after coming we took her to the hospital and the next day in the hospital she passed away. We buried her and leaving my father there I came back. Like this life moves on, moves on. From 91’ by myself... my middle brother got his liberation, my middle brother left his business to me and leaves for Kuwait and does a business there. He tried a few times to bring me to Kuwait to do business, but my father didn’t let me or I didn’t go. I said no I don’t want to go to Kuwait and I want to stay in New York then my father...

My wife now her father is my “mama” (uncle) I’m not sure what they talked about, but while they were talking my father said I’m going to take your daughter [meaning to ask her hand for marriage for his son], I went to Bangladesh at the time. My father told me that we were going to Sandwip, I said why are we going to Sandwip and he told me were just going so let’s go, so here there was a bit of cross talking. He told me that we were going to Sandwip for one day and then my father said that I promised someone if you like her then we can see. After he said I said no I’m not ready and I don’t want to get married. He told me okay we’ll see you go see first. I went and my father alongside my niece they pushed me and said that I have to get married a few later anyway. So, I went and met with her and later married her. When we got married no one knew because her father said that they both... she was also pressured from her family, her father and mother were saying that we have to get married today and I’m not ready at all. So, I said yes because there was nothing I could do at that point and after this arranged marriage, we get married and I come back a week later. She... my wife and I and when I saw her, I asked how she was going to stay because I was going to stay in Bangladesh for another fifteen days so I told my father-in-law that I can’t bring her home now because we didn’t have our wedding yet so they said that was fine wat can they do. Then in Sandwip there was a steamer and I told him to bring her and come by the steamer and we can stay in a hotel for fifteen days, the number of days I’m staying, now she is my legal wife, but I can’t bring her home yet. Only my father and older sister knew and no one else did. My friend, Shamsul Alam was with me, a close friend him and another friend who I used to call sister. I told her sister this is what happened and she said oh what do you mean and I said you know this happened and what should I do because I’m taking her to a hotel. So that sister of mine took us to Agrabah City, over there for about ten or twelve days we went to Dhaka, Cox’s Bazar for fifteen days and no one knows. I would go home get clothes and then come back, that was how our fifteen days were spent. It was a good time in my life.

Then I came back [to America] after coming back I saw that she was by herself and now she was legally my wife so how can I leave her. Then three months later I went back to Bangladesh and now honestly, I do the arrange marriage again [meaning they got married with everyone knowing now] and actually have a party and leave her there [in Bangladesh]. I left her and came back to New York that time I had a business, my nephew was the supervisor of the business, so after leaving her in the nine months every two weeks I would go to Bangladesh probably eight or none times I would go, one week or two I went back to Bangladesh. But then I saw that my business was bad so I told her this time I have to take you and go back. My wife said what am I going to do over there, she didn’t want to come and wasn’t agreeing so I made an arrangement and give her an application for New York. In Bangladesh we needed the marriage certificate and I told my lawyer about this before and he sent it, but the case was through fax and he submitted the case already so as I was getting to the airport I Bangladesh they told me that my case was approved. So, I called her in Bangladesh and told her that she is supposed to get a paper and look for that paper it’s supposed to come from the embassy. She asked what’s supposed to come from the embassy and you will see just make sure you get the paper. Once she got the papers from the embassy, she opened it and saw that the interview was two days later. But I’m not ready because none of the paperwork here are ready. Then I told her to go to Dhaka with mama, my father-in-law, but there was a strike going on in Bangladesh. So, they walked from Noakhali all the way to Dhaka in order to get to the embassy by that time my older daughter, Shompa was born and I wasn’t there and I didn’t apply double for her because I heard that if you go to the embassy in Bangladesh if you tell them they will give it to you. I didn’t realize that and the lawyer didn’t say anything about that either that you have apply for the separately.

In Bangladesh... I told her that if they give you the visa you take yours don’t worry about our daughter that shouldn’t be a problem. If they don’t give it to her today then they will tomorrow, she said how will that happen and I said don’t worry yours is important and the main one, our daughter will come, she went to the embassy and on my end, there were a few paperwork that I had to do. That time it was easy getting the visa at the embassy, if you faxed it, they would see it and give it to you. That time they didn’t see a lot. They interviewed her and was satisfied and gave her a visa and said that they won’t be able to give it to my daughter. I said if they don’t give it our daughter now it’s okay because she will come so she luckily said if you can’t give it to my daughter that’s fine just give me my visa then. Then she got the visa and my nephew went to Bangladesh and I told her to come here with him for fifteen days, then fifteen days later you can leave and by that time I’ll get a lawyer and apply for our daughter. After applying for my daughter within fifteen to twenty days the approval letter came. So, she asked me who should I leave our daughter with and my older sister was there so I told her to leave my daughter with her for fifteen days. She stayed here for 21 days and didn’t want to leave by herself and told me to come with her as well. I said nothing will happen and said you come with me. I heard that when I go to the embassy, they will give her the visa. So, after I went, they said she needs to come for processing. I went to Bangladesh with her and 10-12 days later when I went to the embassy, they said no her approval came, but not the paper work yet [for his daughter]. So, I told her [his wife] that you stay and I will leave and I came back two weeks later. The next 3-4 weeks later they gave her [daughter] visa and she took our daughter from Bangladesh and came to New York.

We were in Prospect Ave that time. When she first came, she also moved into the house in Prospect Ave and we had our room set up and the three of us lived there. My father lived there and I worked. Then about two to four years later my older son, Fiaz is born. After he is born the four of us couldn’t stay in one room. In one room there was a TV and everything, my father was there too. My wife said and we also saw that everyone’s families were coming so my father applied for in-laws to see if they would be able to come, to try. When I sent him the documents from Dhaka, they already sent them the visas to both of them. So, they also came... they got their visa for six months and we only had one room. Then we make our living room the bedroom and they stay here. I stayed in the front room with my wife and in the middle room was my father. My older brother lived upstairs and downstairs my younger sisters lived there so my whole family lived there together. Our room was very congested and then outside... one day when I was going out, I saw that next to us was an open house, but the open house was done. So, me and my wife went out in the evening and saw the open house and we tell them can we see this house. They said no because the open house was finished, we couldn’t see it. Then the person was sitting outside with two or three dogs and his wife said if they’re really interested then show them. So, I went inside and saw the upstairs and I liked the house. They told me to talk to the real estate person... it was the exact price... they told me to talk to their real estate agent. Once I talked to the real estate agent, they told me the price was four lakh, they said I gave them 410,000, then I could have it. I said okay I will get it, then we bought house... we still lived in Prospect Ave, after buying the house my father-in-law does some work in the house, I rented the upstairs to a few students so that I could cover the mortgage payments. We got everything ready and we moved here... That is how my life starts and still going on, construction, I never went to school, but I still try to do whatever I can, and try to do everything by myself. Now Mashallah, Alhamdulillah, I’m good with my family and everyone.

MATIN: Could you tell me a little about what your childhood in Bangladesh was like?

KABIR: My childhood in Bangladesh was different, I was in Chittagong came back from Sandwip in 1978 and then I grew up in Chittagong my childhood... Chittagong I used to play around in school, in the madrasas, and college. That’s how I enjoyed it.

MATIN: What kinds of food did you eat in Bangladesh?

KABIR: Oh, in Bangladesh regularly the foods that people eats in Bangladesh, we went to the bazaars the housemaid used to go elish fish, chicken, beef, everyday it was different whatever we had for that day. Everyone used to bring, there was not a lot of family members, my older brother came, my father lived here [America] so it was me and my mom, my niece, Nilufa, they used to stay at home and in the afternoon together, whatever food there was, every day we went to the bazaar, got fresh foods and we ate those, it was cooked and we had two housemaids. Meaning, I was happy, I didn’t struggled and never worked. In childhood the most interesting was in the evening time when I used to go watch movies and at night hangout with my friends. My childhood was very excellent.

MATIN: While you were in Bangladesh what did you know about American culture? Did you hear about America from others?

KABIR: I had dreams of those. From class 8 I had a dream that the embassy... but my father and mother... my father was here, my older brother was here too, everyone was interested in when we were going to come. That’s why there wasn’t a university that I hadn’t applied to in order to come here.

MATIN: Why did you want to specifically immigrate to New York?

KABIR: Because my father and my family were here. My father, older brother, middle brother, everyone was in New York.

MATIN: What kinds of experiences did you have in New York?

KABIR: After coming to New York everyone has new experiences, everything is new and separate. Everything, everything is different from our culture... and nothing was there. All of it was different. White people, black people, they were here...

MATIN: How did you work with American people? What kinds of interactions did you have?

KABIR: That is, you know... slowly I started to learn English and speak it by watching TV. That time from Bangladesh I knew a little bit, but after coming here, since I lived with my father and middle brother I went to work with and dealt with customers then with them through language I slowly learned.

MATIN: Did you ever face discrimination after coming to America?

KABIR: No, I never did because we have ever went out at night and whoever saw us it never happened. We didn’t go anywhere, just worked since I had my mother and family. Everyone... I heard from others that it happened to some of our people, but it never happened.

MATIN: How did you adjust to the American lifestyle?

KABIR: In my lifestyle adjusting... we thought that we would go back to Bangladesh because that is our country, we would go back. But when my daughter and sons were born everyone was a citizen. Now in ten to twelve years we are not going back to Bangladesh because our children are here. Before we had a dream that we have some, we will leave the country and go back to Bangladesh, but now that is not possible. My sons and daughter everyone grew up here and is born here.

MATIN: What do you like about New York?

KABIR: As in food?

MATIN: New York in general what do you like?

KABIR: Generally, I almost grew up here so I like everything and there is nothing else I can do.

MATIN: Specifically, is there anything you like about New York?

KABIR: In the sense of food?

MATIN: Anything.

KABIR: Oh anything. In New York the food is like our Bengali cultural food is what I like, then American food the ones that are halal are my favorite, meaning there wasn’t a lot before and that time halal foods was less and now whatever we want we can find halal food. If we try, we can find everything. So, our food like Turkish food, Bangladeshi food, Pakistani food, Arabic food, I like all kinds of food.

MATIN: When you first came to New York, how did you find halal and Bengali food?

KABIR: That time there wasn’t a lot. Halal food we couldn’t find it or see it anywhere. What we used to do was go to the chicken farm and we slaughtered it ourselves. Then there was Chinatown in Manhattan, me and my older brother every week bought our foods and carried it from there. So, by halal food we had to make on our own. The chickens we slaughtered it and would bring to Church Avenue because there was an Arabic halal meat store and everyone used to say that it was halal and we got meat, beef, lamb from there. It was just the chicken that we used to get slaughtered from 20th Street and bring it back.

MATIN: Did you face any problems in New York?

KABIR: Everyone else did, but we never had to.

MATIN: Do you think now Bangladesh or America is your home?

KABIR: Oh, my home now is America. Bangladesh, I have in mind, but America is my home. But I go to Bangladesh that is my country and I like it. I try to go every year, but kids are born here so I have to stay here and I like it the most here.

MATIN: When you first came to America, how did keep in contact with family in Bangladesh?

KABIR: Contact... that time we had letters, we wrote letters and then a few years later through telephone and in our house [in Bangladesh] we had a telephone so from here we went to stores and to the telephone booths and call home and talk to my mother. In our house we had a telephone and here too, so because of both we used to contact that way. And for friends at first it was writing letters and wouldn’t have been able to call them, that time the telephone wasn’t available.

MATIN: When your wife first came here, what did she do? Did she stay at home or work outside? What were her responsibilities?

KABIR: Okay when she first came my father was here and she took care of my father like giving him food and my daughter was born so she didn’t have an interest working because there was no time since there was work at home. She took care of her in-laws, my mother visited sometimes and when she left... when my mother first came that time she wasn’t here, so she took care of my father most of the time.

MATIN: After coming to America how did your role as a husband and father change?

KABIR: It was good. We didn’t have any problems, my wife was always understanding sometimes angry you know, but that’s fine. But the understanding was good and she never went outside without me. When she came, I told her to go to school and try, but she said no because like in desh after marriage she didn’t want to go back to school. But later at a school she did take night classes, in the day time she couldn’t because my father was at home and she took care of him. After taking care of him at night she went to school and got her diploma, but it was after a few years.

MATIN: What kinds of Bangladeshi culture and traditions did you want to keep for your family?

KABIR: We wanted to keep what was the culture from desh and keep that alive. But here even if you try it is not always possible, I our country it’s different, we have one culture and America has another culture. But we try in the family to keep the Bangladeshi culture alive as much as possible, you know.

MATIN: What kinds of Bangladeshi culture did you want to keep?

KABIR: Bangladeshi culture like our... now it’s different but arranged marriage like that type of culture we want to hold on to, going to the mosque, praying and fasting, that this culture want to hold on to. Teaching children Arabic and how to pray that what we try to keep and hold on to, whatever it says Islamically and in sharia.

MATIN: What do you your children and family believe?

KABIR: My children like us believe in Allah and all those beliefs.

MATIN: Did you ever have any issues preserving Bangladeshi culture?

KABIR: No, most of the time we didn’t have any issues because I didn’t suffer from that. I heard that it happened to other people, but in our family because we didn’t go anything that would cause that. We had American friends and where and when we need to do something, we understand that perfectly. We tackle it that way, but in our culture before there was issues, like being Muslim would cause problems, but later everyone understands Muslims, what is the religion, and they respect too of us. Before that wasn’t happening, but later they 100% accepted everything. We also accept their [American] culture and don’t bother them. Their religion is there’s and our religion is ours, so we still try to preserve our culture.

MATIN: What do you think are considered to be Bangladeshi cultural traits?

KABIR: This will never happen, Bangladeshi culture will never happen here because this is America and as American culture, we have to tackle it here as much as possible and hold on to Bangladeshi culture and still trying to do.

MATIN: What do think makes a Bangladeshi? Are there any qualities that makes a person Bangladeshi?

KABIR: No, it depends on the person, what kind of person you are, what culture is yours, what is your hobby, you just can’t make someone Bangladeshi... even Bangladeshis aren’t Bangladeshis anymore.

MATIN: What do you like about Bangladeshi culture?

KABIR: In Bangladeshi culture whatever we grew up in so the way of arrange marriages, party [meaning family gatherings] so are the things that we like the most. Every country has different country, my kids culture is here, our culture is in Bangladesh. But Bangladeshi culture is not possible to do everything here but even we try to keep as much as the culture possible. But they’re not going to take in our culture because they were born here, their culture is here, but still our children are trying to adapt our culture, but they don’t avoid it and are respectful of our culture too.

MATIN: Do you see any problems with Bangladeshi culture?

KABIR: No, I don’t see any problems.

MATIN: Do you personally consider yourself a Bangladeshi or American?

KABIR: I am Bangladeshi, everything is Bangladeshi, but I am American too. So Bangladeshi and American both. I respect both.

MATIN: What do you think is the difference between someone who is Bangladeshi-American and just Bangladeshi?

KABIR: I don’t see that personally because Bangladeshis are just Bangladeshi style and Americans are American style. I don’t see a difference. They’re with their culture and we are with our culture, but we respect both.

MATIN: When you first came to America, where did you meet other Bangladeshi people?

KABIR: That time when we came there was not a lot of Bengalis, rare, I would meet them when some of our workers were Bengali, black, Hispanic, then I would meet them then. When we lived in Brooklyn there is Church and McDonald Avenue is there and over there some people would hang out in the evening. Then, a few mosques were being built in Church Ave, the first Bangladeshi Muslim center was built so we would go to the mosque, on Eid and Qurbani Eid, praying five times a day we would go there. Then we would meet with a few people there. At home if we had any parties then I would meet more people. There were not a lot of people, rare.

MATIN: How is the Bangladeshi community in New York?

KABIR: There is a lot. In every block they have so many. I think in Church and McDonald Avenue, where I’m living, 70-80 thousand people are Bangladeshi. Every day you have the store and everything, all the culture, looks like a little Bangladesh.

MATIN: Are you part of any Bangladeshi organizations?

KABIR: Yes, the name is Sandwip Society, it is an organization where everyone... the function is when, people die they help send them to Bangladesh or here help bury them. I have been an advisor for the last five years. I’ve been a advisor for about three to four times now.

MATIN: What do you like about this organization?

KABIR: The organization here what I like the most is when anyone passes away then as quickly as possible, we help try to bury them. That is the most interesting and what I like to do to help. There is a picnic once a year, a big picnic, there everyone from... mostly our Sandwip people, a few other outside guests, but mostly Sandwip people, everyone meets one another, then there are melas (fairs), people get introduced, the best is Sandwip Society picnic we get together and meet each other, see how everyone is doing, that is the best.

MATIN: What kinds of struggles do Bangladeshis face in Brooklyn?

KABIR: At first, they used to, but not anymore. Now you can’t see a lot of people struggling. Now everyone is living in this country, everyone understand. The first times people struggled, but not anymore. Now very much everybody is same.

MATIN: When you were younger did you ever learn about the time when Britain still had control over the Bengal region? Did they teach you that history?

KABIR: That time in school they taught us a few things, but I can’t remember, but they did teach us about British rule, but I don’t know the whole thing.

MATIN: What did you learn about Bangladeshis history?

KABIR: In Bangladesh we learned Bangladesh’s history most of the time. That time Bangladesh’s stories. English was a subject, but nothing much. Bangladesh’s history we learned, but now I don’t remember.

MATIN: What is your opinion about the 1971 genocide and war in Bangladesh?

KABIR: Oh, when the war occurred, we were small, we enjoyed [interested] in how they fought, we use to hear about it on TV, there was acting, during the war we were all younger since the war as happening we used to make guns and act like we were fighting in the war. We were interested about the war and what do you if had to go fight, we were very small.

MATIN: Did you know about what was happening in the war?

KABIR: No, I wasn’t in that age to understand.

MATIN: What is your opinion about the war? After years, when Bangladesh got independence... what is your opinion about the war now?

KABIR: Opinion... now we are an independent country, we can’t do anything that is something that everyone... you know everyone fought and it was good. We shouldn’t do too much with the war... people who in the war we should appreciate them like the freedom fighters. They fought for our country and we couldn’t do anything. We now enjoy, they had to tackle [what happened], we are so happy just leave it, that’s fine.

MATIN: Do you know anyone who fought in the war or went to India to seek refuge?

KABIR: My cousin he fought, in our village there was two or three people who were freedom fighters.

MATIN: Do you know anything about their stories?

KABIR: Their stories a little... they left for India, they fought, they came back and told people... that is what I heard. I heard their stories, they were trained... those were younger that time.

MATIN: When the famine happened in Bangladesh in 1974, do you remember anything or your experiences?

KABIR: No, I wasn’t born that time.

MATIN: Did you know of any Bangladeshis that went to the Middle East to work?

KABIR: Yes, I helped a lot of people to go to the Middle East to work, but I used to help people because I was in Chittagong that time, everyone’s passport, tickets, I would help them most of the time. At first it was my middle and older brothers, but after they left then in everyone in my family, how many years I was in Bangladesh, I helped them go to Dubai, Saudi Arabia... everywhere. Wherever they went and whatever they needed help with I tried my best to help them in Chittagong.

MATIN: do you know how they treated over there?

KABIR: I know that... they used to work there, earn money and send it to Bangladesh. When they used to come to visit Bangladesh one or two years later, they would tell their stories, how hard they worked, this money was hard work money and the way their children used to waste the money, I saw that. Sometimes they invested and sometimes they wasted it. I heard history from them.

MATIN: While you were in Bangladesh did you hear of Bangladeshis immigrating to other countries other than America?

KABIR: Yes, Bangladesh... coming to America was top, meaning wouldn’t have been able to come, it was really far away. In Dubai people would be able to come with money, but in America it’s not like that, not without documents. That’s why people came less here and I heard that everyone that used to come came on a ship, my middle brother came, my father came, most of the people they’re coming in the ship, but we never saw that and it’s not possible for us. They came... that time the only way for people to was by ship otherwise they would not be able to come, it was an easy way. My older brother was a business man so he got documents from the embassy and got his visa. But my friend used to come all the time and I heard from him all the time about everything, he was my best friend. He did a business so he stayed in our house and in New York... when I visited Bangladesh, I would stay at his house all the time, his wife called me brother so that’s how I would hear everything about America.

MATIN: What do you miss about your life in Bangladesh?

KABIR: I miss in Bangladesh you know in Bangladesh on Friday... Thursday half day and Friday half day that is our Muslim day, big day, I miss that most of the time because in New York Friday is the most important day and in Bangladesh it’s a holiday. That’s what I miss most of the time in Bangladesh you know. In our country Friday, is the holiday. In New York Friday is a working day an important day. So, I miss that in Bangladesh especially namaz (prayer), jummah (Friday prayers), sometimes we read it here, but it’s a rush because we come back from work then go to prayers and then go back from there, but in Bangladesh it’s relaxed, you pray, take your time to eat, sleep and then go. In whoever’s country is what... I miss that about Bangladesh.

MATIN: What is your favorite memory of Bangladesh?

KABIR: My...

MATIN: When you were in Bangladesh what was your favorite memory?

KABIR: Oh, favorite memory was watching movies the most, I would go to the hall [movie theater] and watching movies. At night the interesting thing was at night around 12 or 1 am when everyone was asleep, we would come and eat secretly so that my mother would not see because I was scared.

MATIN: After you first came here how would you find out about events that happened in Bangladesh?

KABIR: I heard from different people, they would tell us stories.

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

KABIR: No, I wouldn’t change anything. In my journey there was nothing that was different.

MATIN: Do you have any regrets?


MATIN: Do you have any regrets?


MATIN: What are you most proud of in your life or your accomplishments?

KABIR: In America the accomplishment is that your main self is to work, you earn, you do what you can to enjoy, you money and you don’t... The main thing here is you don’t need anything... if you work you earn money and if you don’t work then no money. No one is going to help you, if you have money everybody helps you, you know, this is you earn yourself that is the main thing and this my priority. I’m happy and I never had to ask people for anything, my father, my mother, my brother, it was my own money I earned it myself and enjoy it for myself. That’s it.

MATIN: Is there anything else you would like share or say?

KABIR: No, I don’t have anything else to share.

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

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