OP-ED: What explains the migration of Bangladeshis to Buffalo?


Bangladeshis in the United States have found an interesting alternative to life in New York

For the past 35 years, Bangladeshis have been the fastest growing Asian-American population in the United States. In 1980, there were approximately 5,000 Bangladeshis in the United States. By 2014, the population had grown to 277,000. The largest enclave, however, resides in New York City, where around 76,000 Bangladeshis have settled. In recent years, at least 1,000 to 1,500 Bangladeshi families have lived in Buffalo. No government agency chose Buffalo as their new home, the Bangladeshis made their choice.

Bangladeshi Americans now number around 280,000, and New York City is home to the country’s largest population. The high costs of living and housing in New York City probably make Buffalo attractive in comparison. There are hundreds of New York Bangladeshis here looking for a home and a better life here in Buffalo.

Bangladeshi families see their quality of life improving as they settle in this city. Buffalo now has a large established Bangladeshi community. They are leaving other Bangladeshi communities in Detroit, Pennsylvania and New Jersey to become part of the Buffalo community. This city is the right place as a future destination for many internal migrants of Bangladeshi origin.

The migration to Buffalo started out as a trickle a decade ago, but over the past three years or so it has become a torrent. Whatever the precise number, the new arrivals have had a dramatic impact on several neighborhoods in the East.

It is a transformation led by this city for the new group of immigrants; mostly Bangladeshis come here in droves, from New York, where many first arrived, perhaps a generation ago from their South Asian homeland. They also come from a very different experience, because they have a very different perspective. However, Buffalo has become the alternative to New York.

Since arriving in Buffalo, Bangladeshi immigrants have established vibrant communities across the east side. The Buffalo News reports that Bangladeshi families frequently rent or buy homes in neighborhoods like Broadway-Fillmore, Genesee-Moselle, Fillmore-Leroy and Kensington. The size of Buffalo’s Bangladeshi population is unknown.

Most Bangladeshis cite economic forces as the reason for the growth of their community in Buffalo. Mahbubul Haq, founder and director of the Bangladesh Society of Buffalo, says the cost of living, lack of job opportunities, and cramped lifestyle in other big cities have motivated families to look for work and accommodation elsewhere. Some have mentioned that the weather is also a reason for moving to Buffalo.

In 2013, the Bangladesh Society of Buffalo began fostering a sense of community and cultural identity among Bangladeshi immigrants to this city. The Bangladeshi Society also plays an important political role, serving as a community liaison with municipal agencies and advocating for resources and reforms. They have contributed to multi-group solidarity efforts, including rallies and petitions, to insist that Buffalo welcome all religious and ethnic groups.

Bangladeshi communities are deeply Muslim and have started pooling their resources to create new religious institutions to accommodate their growing population – a small portion of the population identifies as Hindu, Christian or non-religious. In light of family structures, Bangladeshis value family and every household tends to live close to relatives.

The strength of Bangladeshi communities in the United States owes much to these family loyalties. According to the New York Times, many Bangladeshis in New York City suffer from isolation and poverty. Some immigrant families who expected to live the “American dream” of prosperity found the social and economic transition to American society tumultuous.

According to Nadia Nashir, assistant superintendent of multilingual education for Buffalo Public Schools, an increasing number of Bengali-speaking students are enrolled in Buffalo public schools each year. In fact, as of 2015, Bangla is the seventh most spoken language in the school district.

Bangladeshi Americans in Buffalo are active contributors to the local economy. Bangladeshis are represented in various local professions – there are professors, psychiatrists, doctors, engineers and small business owners.

The Bangladeshi people of Buffalo have proven to be a major force in the revitalization of neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city. A few years after their resettlement, the Bangladeshis rebuilt houses, opened shops and founded mosques. Long-term migration from Bangladesh is a well-known phenomenon.

Many people of Bangladeshi origin now reside in different countries of the world as long-term migrants. The industrialized countries of Europe, North America and Australia are the most important destinations for these longtime emigrants.

As Bangladeshis move into the neighborhoods, crime decreases in some of the most crime-prone areas of the city. While crime in the city fell 30% from 2010 to 2015, it was even more dramatic in the city’s new Bangladeshi strongholds. Crime rates have dropped 70% in these streets and neighborhoods, according to data from the Buffalo Police Department.

The city didn’t bring them to Buffalo, they did it themselves – paying taxes and making the city better. Bangladeshi families see their quality of life improve when they move to Buffalo – they transform their lives.

The United States is now on the cusp of the great era of American climate migration. For now, it is piecemeal and displacements are often temporary, although it is not clear whether these migrants are moving to Buffalo due to climate change or not.

Nazneen I Khan is a researcher, International Center for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD).


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