By DAWN CLANCY & MIRIAM QUIÑONES
Women from the Bengali community of Norwood hosted a festive barbecue and ice cream-themed feast at Mosholu Park on Saturday, May 22, to celebrate the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
The event, hosted by LAAL, a non-profit organization that provides resources and support to Bengali women in Norwood, also marked the first time the community has come together in person since the early days of the COVID-pandemic. 19, and as such, was also an opportunity to celebrate life beyond the various confinements imposed by the State.
“When it all stopped in March 2020, we had to cancel all of our in-person programming,” said Alexandra Indira Sanyal, LAAL Marketing and Media Coordinator. “We’ve all been home for over a year, so it’s kind of a post-COVID celebration as well. So, this is really special.
With some dressed in cheerful hijabs, traditional headwear worn by Muslim women, the participants, including an honorary member of the male staff of LAAL, commemorated the end of Ramadan, the Islamic season of fasting and reflection, also called Eid-al-Fitr, or Eid, which in Arabic means “Feast of breaking the fast”.
In the past, as previously reported by Norwood News, Norwood Bengali immigrant women had no access to any common, safe and dedicated space where they could connect, which left many people feeling marginalized. Sanjana Kahn sought to bridge this gap by co-founding and creating LAAL in 2019.
Since then, every year LAAL has organized women’s support groups, pantries, conversational English classes, and transportation classes, and this summer they also plan to start a community garden. In addition, the group is also becoming more politically active and has endorsed the Bronx People’s Platform of NYC 2021, a grassroots and grassroots movement with a largely progressive agenda.
“I was born and raised in Norwood, and I never felt like there was a space for us,” said Kahn, who also recently hosted one of District 11 city council candidates that took place before the June 22 Primary Election. “Even growing up, when we went to the mosque, girls were not allowed. When we go to the grocery store, the men stare at us. So I co-founded LAAL two years ago for women. They were the ones who wanted that.
As noted, the Bengali population in Norwood is growing. In 2019, the US Census Bureau estimated that there were 2,445 foreign-born Bangladeshis living in Bronx Community District 7 (CB7), representing 4.2% of the total population of the district which includes Bedford Park, Norwood , Fordham, Kingsbridge Heights and University Heights.
Meanwhile, according to the Asian American Federation, New York’s Bangladeshi population (those who specifically identify as Bangladeshi alone) increased by 60%, from 38,639 in 2010 to 61,927 in 2015. The majority (66%) of Bengalis live in Queens, followed by 16 percent in the Bronx, 15 percent in Brooklyn and three percent in Manhattan.
As we also reported, throughout the pandemic, the Bronx has been one of the hardest hit boroughs. Its COVID-19 positivity rate reached the city’s highest at 7.06% on a seven-day average in late January 2021. However, with the availability of COVID vaccines and the onset of warmer weather, rallies in outdoors with or without masks are finally possible, and LAAL’s Bengali community plans to seize every opportunity to celebrate.
As reported, in response to the pandemic, LAAL launched the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a fundraising campaign in partnership with the Zakat Fund of NYC, which was established in 2016 to collect and distribute “Zakat,” or alms in New York. Through the fund, LAAL distributed groceries and cash assistance to more than 54 local families. “This is our first public gathering and it’s really exciting. I’m so happy right now, ”Kahn said. “During the pandemic, we showed up when no one else did for our community and that’s why we now have the community’s trust.”