- Big splash of red and green color
- Dash of Bengal tiger
- One giant water lily or statue of liberty
- Machine operated platform
- Lots of people who can walk up a hill
With these materials, I’m painting an image of floats and participants in the Bangladesh Day parade in Los Angeles, California; however, what one observes in this parade is more complex. The mobile parade structures, banners, and posters of people are laden with Bangladesh historical context, while the inclusion of a Korean drum performance group (2016), El Salvadorian Corridor banner and performers (2011-2012), Scottish Bag Pipers (2009), Mexican Veracruz and Hawaiian/Tahitian Hula dance style performers (2019), and the electronic vibes of Pinkturban music collective (2018) reflect the multicultural landscape that L.A. Bengalis live in. 1
Background of a neighborhood festive event
In 2010 this Central Los Angeles community had a specific neighborhood space designated as “Little Bangladesh” in a four-block area of 3rd Street from Alexandria Avenue to New Hampshire Avenue.2,3,4 In 2007, before this neighborhood designation, BUFLA (Bangladesh Unity Federation of Los Angeles) members were annually organizing a parade and festival displaying their Bangladeshi-American culture, identity, and history every March. The scheduled event date was significant in that it also celebrated and honored those who fought for Bangladesh independence, March 26, 1971.
The two-day event is titled, Bangladesh Day, though signage will also often mention that it is Celebration of Bangladesh Independence Day. On the day of the parade, which is scheduled on Saturday or Sunday, depending on the year, the parade travels down a hill, then up an inclined path stretching from Normandie Avenue through designated “Little Bangladesh” on 3rd Street to Vermont Avenue. The parade then turns left up to Council Street past the Virgil High School to the Middle School where the festival is staged outside under many white tents.
Demographics of Bangladeshi diaspora
The Bangladeshi diaspora extends all around the world with LA, and other California regions as just a couple of the places people have settled. 5 To give a sense of community size in LA, I’ll refer to Pew Social Trends statistics website from 2015, that lists the U.S. metropolitan area of Los Angeles having 6,000 Bangladeshi Americans. 6 Yet, in a 2018 article, it is suggested that this is a possible undercount of the population that potentially is reaching 20K.7 And this does include the Bangladeshi people who live in the Inland Empire and other areas of California.
An academic deciphering of the Bangladesh Day Parade
It’s exciting attending a parade; however, having greater contextual information makes it more intriguing, entertaining, and educational to watch. Although a person of Bangladeshi (nationality) Bengali (ethnicity) background who speaks fluent Bengali/Bangla is not likely in need of reference books and other people to explain the history on display in a parade, I am. Therefore, the article is equal parts a photo essay, a researcher’s inquiry into background history, and a cultural study of a parade. I wanted to delve into the what was on display and decipher the pieces that spoke of history, culture, and immersion in an LA space.
History on Parade
When watching this parade, I often think of it as a history lesson into pivotal Bangladesh events and key figures who shaped the country, as well as a cultural display of Bangladeshi-American-ness.
In the above photographs, the history and politics of Bangladesh are referenced in parade posters, banners, and iconographic structures rolled and carried along the route. I'll explore what some of these historical references are in order to demonstrate how parade imagery can be meaningful reminders of people’s struggles. It’s far from the trivial or whimsical content often associated with the parade genre.
Photo 1 from left to right shows: 1) a poster referencing the Bangladesh flag in colors and shapes, with details in writing about the day of independence (March 26, 1971) when East Pakistan became Bangladesh; 2) posters of drawing and painting of the founding father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman; then 3) a replica of National Martyr's Monument (referencing the history leading to the Liberation War 1971, further discussed below); and 5) the Shahid Minar monument to honor martyrs (1952) of the Bengali/Bangla Language Movement.
Photo 2 of and 3 also represent similar aspects of Bangladesh history and the Mukti Bahini - Bengali Freedom fighters from the Liberation War.
To better situate the parade banners, structures, and posters in a historical context, I'll provide brief descriptions of important chapters in Bangladesh history.
Much of the imagery in these selected parade photographs refer to Bangladesh independence from Pakistan - the Liberation War/War of Liberation, when East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) fought for independence from West Pakistan (now Pakistan) beginning in 1971. It's important to mention that the turmoil between regions had been boiling for years before, especially with the 1950s Language Movement, when East Pakistan fought for the inclusion of the Bengali/Bangla language as a second national language to Pakistan's official Urdu language. And, later with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's presentation (March 23, 1966) of the Awami League party's 6-point formula which challenged Pakistani government policies. It was finally on March 24, 1971, upon West Pakistan declaring martial law, banning the Awami League and targeting those in support of East Pakistan/ Bengali independence, that on March 26, Bangladesh proclaimed its independence. This lead to 9 months of gruesome warfare with many East Pakistanis experiencing "civilian displacement, torture, and death." 8 By October of 1972, there was a draft constitution for Bangladesh listing the four-points policy adopted by the Awami League: nationalism, socialism, democracy, and secularism as fundamental principles of state policy. To this day the state policy has been expanded, though secularism, which encourages the separation of religion from state continues to remain an issue, with many supporting government policies shaped by the Muslim religion. 9,10,11
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (1920-1975) is depicted on multiple posters in the parade photos. He is known as "Bangabandhu, 'friend of Bengal,' and coined the name Bangladesh (“Land of Bengal” also associated with 'desh' meaning 'land' of 'bangla' speaking people) in December 1969." 12,13 As the first leader of Bangladesh, he had been a supporter of the Bengali Language Movement 1952 and member of the Awami League party years before he led Bangladesh to nationhood.
The National Martyr Monument, depicted in photos taken of the parade banners and in a miniature form, represents the actual monument located northwest of capital city Dhakar in Savar. It was designed by architect-engineer, Syed Mainul Hossain, and completed in 1982. It shows seven triangular-shaped walls on two sides to represent 7 key events in Bangladesh history up to its independence in 1971 and honors those who fought for it. 14
The Shahid Minar Monument (miniature replica in parade photo) and the Language Movement also needs further elucidation. The monument designed by architect Hamidur Rahman is an abstraction of mother and fallen sons that is representative of contentious times in Bangladesh history. It was February 21, 1952 when now Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) was still part of Pakistan. The Pakistani government was trying to impose Urdu as a state language over the Bangla/Bengali speaking people. Thus,
"to force the government to recognize Bangla/Bengali as a state language, students and (Awami) League members organized, demonstrated, and called for a national boycott on February 21, when Khwaja Nazimuddin, the new prime minister Pakistan, was due to visit Dacca (Dacca changed to Dhaka 1982). In clashes with the police on that day, four students were killed on the University of Dacca campus. They became the first 'martyrs' of the language movement, and February 21, or 'Ekushey February,' has been immortalized in Bangladeshi history as the real beginning of independence movement. In 1963 this monument called the Shahid Minar was erected in Dacca in honor of the slain. In 1999 UNESCO internationalized the commemoration by declaring February 21 to be International Mother Language Day.” 15,16,17 (Five were eventually martyred though there were countless victims.) 18
Photo 4 relates to Bangladesh political parties which is always a sensitive subject, but I wanted to show its presence in the parade. Present-day political party affiliations and key figures, has alternated between two dominant parties, the Bangladesh Awami League (AL) (leadership under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is one of two surviving daughters of founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's who was murdered in 1975) and the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) (leadership initially under party founder, Ziaur Rahman, until his murder in 1981; then his wife Begum Khaleda Zia served multiple terms as Prime Minister). Since I am discussing Bangladesh political parties, there are the Jatiya Party (Ershad), as well as other less dominant political parties too. 19,20,21,22,23,24
It is the Awami League party and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who currently lead the Bangladesh government, though in this Photo 4 are BNP supporters with images of past and present BNP key figures (from left-Tarique Rahman, Ziaur Rahman, Begum Khaleda Zia).
National symbolism is pervasive in the parade with participants carrying and displaying Bangladesh and American national flags. These symbols reflect some of the cultural attributes and past historical events that shaped this South Asian country bordering India and Myanmar. On the Bangladesh flag displayed, the green color is said to represent the natural greenery of Bangladesh, "while the red circle symbolizes the rising sun and the sacrifice of lives in our fight for freedom.” 25,26,27 The inclusion of the American flag and statue of liberty in the parade also demonstrates the Bangladeshi-Americans’ hybrid identity and affiliation. Other symbolic imagery linked to the country of Bangladesh in the parade, are the water lily (national flower), Bengal tiger (national animal), and even the sport of cricket, considered the most popular sport of Bangladesh, though kabaddi is the designated national sport of Bangladesh.28,29,30
In Photo 5 and 6 the Bengal tiger figure and patriotic flags on display, as well as members of the community. In the 2019 photo, there are invited guests of both the United States and Bangladesh - Mr. M.A.Manna, MP (Honorable Minister of the Ministry of Planning Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh), Sheika Rahman (Georgia State Senate), Priyatosh Saha (Consulate General of Bangladesh in Los Angeles), along with many other distinguished people.
A display of culture, geography, religion, and multiculturalism in a L.A. landscape
There are many organizations, groups, and individuals that participate in the parade. While most participants are from or have a connection to Bangladeshi-American community, there is a welcome invitation for groups outside the immediate community to join the parade too. In this urban Los Angeles community parade, one can observe the history and culture of Bangladesh alongside a representation of Bangladeshi-American-ness and American multiculturalism.
In Photo 7, 8, 9 the Uttoron group of California, a cultural organization, carries banner and displays a hand-constructed miniature, traditional marriage conveyance known as a palki. A close-up view of the palki and one of the BUFLA leaders/parade organizers (Dr. Abul Hashem) stands beside it.31,32
In Photo 10 members of the Muslim Ummah of North America (MUNA) - Southern California carry their banner. As in this and a previous photo, some men wear the orange-red henna dyed beard. There may be a few reasons for their appearance, one being to follow the ways of the Prophet Muhammad who was thought to dye his beard with henna. 33
Photo 11 shows a banner for Sanatan Bengali Society of California carried in the parade. It's important to note that although Bangladesh is considered a predominately Muslim country, there are other religions represented too, such as Hinduism.
The Sanatan Bengali Society states on their website that it is a "socio-cultural, and humanitarian non-profit organization for the Hindu Bangladeshi and Indian Bengali community in U.S.A, established in the year 2010" and is organized to preserve Hindu culture, while passing on its values. 34
Photo 12, 13 refer to geographic regions in Bangladesh, while also representing Los Angeles and California area organizations. In the parade there are districts and sub-units districts of the Bangladesh capital city of Dhaka referenced via the parade organization names listed on signs/banners, such as Greater Faridpur Association (Faridpur district), Bikrampur Association (Munshigani district of Dhaka, historically known as Bikrampur), Jahalabad Association of California and Sylhet World Council (reference Sylhet region also known as Jalalabad region), Dohar Upazila Association of California (Dohar is sub-unit district in Dhaka District).35
Photo 14, 15 represent a few of the many organizations and groups participating in the parade. There are cricket clubs (e.g., La Bangla Unique Club and LA Bengals), BUFLA Scouts and youth group, alumni of Dhaka University, local schools (e.g., Ideal School of Los Angeles) as well as professional organizations for engineers, architects, physicians, and a variety of work-related affiliations (e.g., Bangladesh Medical Association of North American (BMANA-CA)). In past years, the Bangladesh Taxi Workers Association walked with a banner. Often with a parade, those who participate can vary year to year, depending on ability/motivation for groups to organize, what is of interests to people that year, or any number of other reasons. The BUFLA web page has an extensive list of the many Bangladeshi Organizations located in California that participate in the parade. 36
Video and Photo 16, 17 display how modern and traditional music and dance forms are threaded into this parade of Bangladesh history, culture, and interests. In 2019, there were two dance ensembles, one in Hawaiian/Tahitian costuming performing and another representing the Mexican Veracruz traditional style clothing and dance (Ballet Coco dance studio). In past years, Korean, Ecuadorian, and other groups participated in the parade reflecting cultural diversity of the nearby area. In 2018, the Pinkturban music collective had a float. Their music incorporated an electronic beat alongside traditional instruments and vocals of Bengali singer, Arzeen, who performed on the parade float. This video excerpt above only plays the electronic mixing, though there is a music video created from an amalgamation of parade footage with Arzeen singing. 37 LINK
As you can see, the Bangladesh Day Parade is a festive event that interweaves an entertaining cultural experience with remembrances of important historical events that shaped a country and its people. There are many aspects of this parade, and ways one could write about it. I've chosen to focus on how it brings the history and culture of Bangladesh to the LA streets, while also displaying its California roots.
* footnote format not standardized
- Bangladesh Unity Federation of Los Angeles photo archives of Bangladesh Day Celebrations https://bufla.com/UnityDays/UnityDays.aspx
- Lopez, Steve (2009) Staking Their Pieces of LA” Los Angeles Times (November 8, 2009) (Accessed 2019) https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2009-nov-08-me-lopez8-story.html
- Abdulrahim, Raja (2010) “Little Bangladesh must grow into its name” Los Angeles Times, November 28, 2010 (Accessed 2019) https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2010-nov-28-la-me-little-bangladesh-20101128-story.html
- Ma, Eileen and Preeti Sharma (2009) “What’s really at issue in the Koreatown-Little Bangladesh dispute” Los Angeles TimesNovember 17, 2009 (Accessed 2019)https://www.latimes.com/opinion/opinion-la/la-oew-ma18-2009nov18-story.html
- “Bangladeshi Diaspora” (Accessed 2019) http://www.popflock.com/learn?s=Bangladeshi_diaspora
- “Bangladeshis | Data on Asian Americans” Pew Research Center: Social & Demographic Trends (Sept 8, 2017) (Accessed 2019)https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/fact-sheet/asian-americans-bangladeshis-in-the-u-s/
- Macias Jr., Martin (2018) “In LA’s Koreatown, Little Bangladesh Stakes Its Claim” Courthouse News Service (May 4, 2018) (Accessed 2019)https://www.courthousenews.com/in-las-koreatown-little-bangladesh-stakes-its-claim/
- Columbia University Press (2014) “Chapter: Moving Toward Civil War: the horror, the victory” Sources of Indian Traditions: Modern India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, Volume 2
- Ibid. Columbia University Press (2014)
- Dummet, Mark (2011) “The Bangladesh War The article that changed history” (BBC News) (Accessed 2019) https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-16207201
- Elliot, Scott (2015) Experiencing Bangladesh: History, Politics, and Religion
- Ibid. Elliot, Scott (2015)
- Columbia University Press (2014) “Chapter: Nationalism and the Bangla Language”Sources of Indian Traditions: Modern India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, Volume 2
- Banglapedia National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (online)http://en.banglapedia.org/index.php?title=National_Martyrs%E2%80%99_Memorial
- Columbia University Press (2014) “Chapter: The Language Movement” and “Chapter Abdul Gaffar Chaudhuri’s Famous Elegy for the February 1952 Martyrs” in Sources of Indian Traditions: Modern India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, Volume 2.
- Guhathakurta, Meghna and Willem van Schendel (editors) (2013) The Bangladesh Reader: History, Culture, Politics
- Uddin, Sufia M. (2006) Constructing Bangladesh: Religion, Ethnicity, and Language in an Islamic Nation
- Hamid, Hasam (2019) "How many were martyred in 1952 Language Movement" (Accessed 2019) http://opinion.bdnews24.com/2019/02/20/how-many-were-martyred-in-1952-language-movement
- “Beaming Bangladesh” A Magazine of Embassy of Bangladesh: Washington DC (2019) (online) http://www.bdembassyusa.org/
- Mahmud, Faisal (2018) “Is Bangladesh moving towards one-party state?” (April 4, 2018) Al jazeera News https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/sheikh-hasina-turning-bangladesh-party-state-180404082024893.html
- Dhaka Tribune articles https://www.dhakatribune.com/
- Guhathakurta, Meghna and Willem van Schendel (editors) (2013) The Bangladesh Reader: History, Culture, Politics
- “begum has been adapted for use as an honorific for Muslim women of high social status, accomplishment, or power” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Begum
- “Elections in Bangladesh” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elections_in_Bangladesh
- Ibid, “Beaming Bangladesh”
- Consulate General of Bangladesh Los Angeleshttp://www.bangladeshconsulatela.com/index.html
- Embassy of Bangladesh Washington D.C. http://www.bdembassyusa.org/index.php?page=father-of-the-nation
- Rahman, Urmi (2015) Culture Smart! Bangladesh
- Ibid, Rahman, Urmi (2015)
- Ibid, “Beaming Bangladesh”
- Uttoron, Los Angeles https://uttoronla.webs.com/contact.htm
- Conversation with Dr. Abul Hashem
- Sanatan Bengali Society of California https://www.sanatanbengalisociety.org/SBSC/?page_id=2
- Eddie2718, (2015) “Dhaka Division- 17 Districts” on website Bangladeshi Probashi: All Divisions & Districts (August 26, 2015) (Accessed 2019)https://bangladeshiprobashi.wordpress.com/2015/08/26/dhaka-division-17-districts/
- BUFLA “List of Bangladeshi Organizations of California”https://bufla.com/Partners/Organization.aspx
- Pinkturban https://twitter.com/pinkturbanlabel
Other readings referenced, include books on the history of Bengal region, specifically, Professor S.M. Deen's book, A Brief History of Bengal for Diaspora Bangladeshis: From the Ancient Time to Creation of Bangladesh in 1971 (2014).
* Photos/Video by Tiff Graham 2018/2019
বাংলাদেশ দিবসের প্যারেড (in Bangla)