Bengali-Americans in Ozone Park and Identity (Story 1)

When Sayara Uddin, 22, was asked to give a brief history about her mother land Bangladesh, she froze. She did not budge. Knowing the history of the country one’s family comes from can come easy to many people, however some Bengali-Americans in a predominantly Bengali community in Ozone Park, Queens, find themselves struggling to find their identity in the city that is referred to as a melting pot.

Poverty and corruption have taken over Bangladesh for many years, corruption being the most pervasive, hence the reason why the country remains uncivilized and there is lack of peace.

Bangladesh routinely finds itself among the most corrupt countries in the world. Even in the country’s police force, there is a high risk of encountering corruption due to low salaries, lack of training and expertise. When it comes to the government, there is no transparency between the people and the government. There have been efforts, however, to try to use information technology in order to enhance the transparency and efficiency of some government services.

The Bangladeshi tax administration is another example of corruption in the country. Irregular payments in connection with tax payments are common. It is common for businesses to negotiate their tax liabilities with the tax administration, whereby both parties enter into implicit agreements which involves regular informal payments.

The press in Bangladesh is considered to be partly free. The media is moderately active and public criticism of the government is common. Legal and regulatory framework allows for some restrictions, and physical attacks and harassment against reporters have recently increased, thus making Bangladesh an unsafe place for reporting at times. While freedom of association and assembly is guaranteed by the constitution, it is not always respected in. Freedom of speech and expression are restricted as well.

“Being born and raised in New York, I feel like I’m so Americanized that I have no idea about the history of the country my family comes from or even the slightest idea of what is going on there,” said Uddin. “But if you ask almost any other Bengali-American my age to tell you a little bit about Bangladesh, I bet they would struggle just like I did.”

Many young Bengali-Americans find themselves in a similar position as Uddin. Their lack of knowledge on the country most of their family comes from speaks volumes on the struggle of identity for those who were born here or spent most of their life here.

“I came here from Bangladesh when I was 17 in 1988 because my family knew coming to the land of opportunity meant wealth and a better life for us,” said Delwar Rahman, 46, who has been living in Ozone Park since coming to New York. “But I don’t know very much about Bangladesh or its history. I feel like growing up, all I saw was poverty and the only thing explained to me and taught in school was that the government was the root of all evil and corruption plagued the country since basically the beginning of its time.”

Rahman goes on to explain that because he has been living in America for almost 30 years now, he does not ever really find the need to look into what is going on back home. “It’s sad that I have nothing positive to say about Bangladesh, or anything to say at all when my kids ask me about Bangladesh because they want to know how life is there. But the truth is, when you come to America and live in New York especially, the only thing you can really think about is hustling and working day and night to provide for your family.”

The common ground many Bengali- Americans in Ozone Park share are their cultural values, the food they eat, the language they share and the experiences of being an immigrant and starting a family in the land of opportunity while barely being in touch with their roots.

The attitude that many Bengali-Americans like Uddin and Rahman have is that if they no longer live in Bangladesh, the corruption and poverty happening there does not impact their lives. What they may not be fully aware of is the fact that when they are addressed to speak on the issues or history of their country, the Americanized mentality conflicts with an inner struggle of identity. Thus, many Bengali-Americans shy away from even wanting to learn about their homeland.


Bangladesh Story Pitch

Hi Emily,

I am a student in your International Reporting class and since the beginning of this semester, I have wanted to cover Bangladesh as my beat. My fellow classmate, Brandon, is also covering Bangladesh so in order to add more diversity into our reporting, I wanted to take a different angle. Brandon wants to cover the corruption surrounding and within Bangladesh’s government, which specifically impacts the country’s press freedoms as well as labor rights. Taking on the angle of what local Bengali immigrants think of the country’s government is great, but I want to focus on those who are not even aware of what is going on in their country.

When I was doing my beat memo, I myself was not aware of half the information I came across about my country. After that, I decided to visit Ozone Park where there are many Bengali immigrants. I went around asking people if they could tell me the current state of their country and only 1 person out of 20 was able to tell me what was going on. This was very eye-opening for me.

So far, I have conducted 3 interviews: a 23-year-old man whose family moved here from Bangladesh when he was 3; a 54 year-old woman whose parents live back in Bangladesh; a 17-year-old who was born and raised in New York, but his parents are immigrants from Bangladesh.

Each individual had a different viewpoint on Bangladesh and had different levels of knowledge on the state of the country. It was shocking to me how out-of-touch some of us with our own country and roots.

I want to do more interviewing and focus on the fact that a lot of Bengalis do not know what is going on in their country. Had more people been aware of the country’s state, maybe a lot more could be done to fight back the powers that are oppressing the people and the country.

I look forward to hearing from you and getting your feedback on this angle.

-Tafannum (Taf)

Bangladesh Beat Memo

The population of Bangladesh is 156,186,882. Bangla, also known as Bengali, is the official language of Bangladesh, with 98.8% of people who speak it. Another 1.2% speak other languages. 89.1% of people who live in the country are Muslim, 10% are Hindu and the other 0.9% includes Buddhists and Christians.

Bangladesh’s government is parliamentary republic and has a mixed legal system of mostly English common law and Islamic law. Bangladesh’s economy has grown roughly 6% per year since 1996 despite political instability, poor infrastructure, corruption, insufficient power supplies, slow implementation of economic reforms, and the 2008-2009 global financial crisis and recession. Although more than half of GDP is generated through the services sector, almost half of Bangladeshis are employed in the agriculture sector, with rice as the single-most-important product. The labor force consists of people in agriculture (47%), industry work (13%) and service work (40%). The unemployment rate sits at 4.9% but it is important to note that about 40% of the population is underemployed with many people who were counted as “employed” work only a few hours a week at low wages.

The Daily Prothom Alo, in terms of circulation, is the largest newspaper in Bangladesh. It is published in Bengali and read by half a million people every day. It was established in 1998, headquartered in the capital city of Dhaka. The paper has taken to the local culture and is a favorite of locals. The print media is private and consists of hundreds of weekly publications that present many viewpoints, though some outspoken papers have faced pressure in the past. Television is the biggest medium for news in Bangladesh. Radio is also important in the country. The prime role of community radio is to give voice to the voiceless people who do not have access to the mainstream media to express their ideas and views regarding community development. Promoting the right to communicate, speed up the process of informing the community, assist the free flow of information and therefore act as a catalyst of change are few major tasks are to be done by community radio.

There are an estimated 11.4 million internet users in Bangladesh. The use of internet is unrestricted by the government however; some journalist’s emails have been monitored in the past. There are huge online newspaper and news portals in Bangladesh. But all the news portals are not listed by Bangladesh government.

The Wall Street Journal

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Immigrant Community and Country

This semester, I would like to focus on Bangladesh. The immigrant community that is closest to me is Ozone Park and there are a lot of people from Bangladesh who reside in that area.

I feel like I know nothing about my country aside from the fact that there is a lot of political corruption and a ton of problems in the country. That is a shame because I feel like I should know more about where my family comes from. I’m aware that there are a lot of undocumented immigrants in Ozone Park and with everything going on with our new president, there is a lot of uneasiness in immigrant communities everywhere.