AANHPI Heritage Month: Spotlighting the Bangladeshi community and its struggle with racism

JACKSON HEIGHTS, Queens (WABC) -- For AANHPI Heritage Month, we are spotlighting a community that is such an important part of New York City's culture -- yet Bangladeshi New Yorkers are underrepresented and struggling.

"These are all Bangladeshi," said Mohamed Hossain, a Bangladeshi New Yorker, while pointing out several businesses. "Sonali Exchange, Sonali Bank, is the largest Bangladeshi national bank. So it's the largest bank in Bangladesh. First branch in America is right here."

Hossain arrived in Jackson Heights before the Queens neighborhood became what it is today.

"That owner and me, we came same time this country," Hossain said. "Late 80s, all of a sudden everything grow up so fast."

Hossain came to the U.S. almost 40 years ago on a four-and-a-half-hour boat ride from the Bahamas to Miami.

His first job paid $2.37 an hour. He's worked in retail, drove a cab, and eventually got two jobs working in hotels.

In fact, from the day he arrived, Hossain has always worked two jobs at once.

But he became unemployed before the pandemic, and finding a job proved difficult once everything shut down. His adult children have been supporting him since.

One could say he has every right to be mad at the world. Instead, he says, he has it pretty good.

"For me, it's OK, because I could support my family back home," Hossain said. "I could support my kids, and I could give them the education. And I can still help some orphan house back home. There's a saying in Korean culture, your kids are your retirement plan, there is no 401k."

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But underneath his story of struggle is the story of resilience.

In 1993, Hossain helped launch the Thikana Newspaper. With a quarter-million readers throughout New York City and the Tri-State area, it is the most widely circulated Bangladeshi newspaper in North America.

On top of readers' minds these days: unemployment, racism, and the countless violent attacks against the cab, Uber, and Lyft drivers who are Bangladeshi.

"Everywhere, there's a little bit of racism everywhere," said Rafid Shaheen, with Thikana News.

Suryia Rahman is an immigration attorney, and she says so many in the community work for less than minimum wage and live with strangers in small studio apartments in order to afford the rent.

"It's just very heartbreaking to see the discrimination they have to face," Rahman said.

But time and again, the Bangladeshi community shows its strength and determination.

"Extremely dangerous journey to get to the United States," Rahman said. "They often fly into South America, take buses and trains throughout South America and Mexico to get to the border."

And yet, beneath a story of struggle and resilience is a story of hope and joy. The next generation can keep smiling, because of the sacrifices made by immigrants like Hossain.

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