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.