Secondary Source Analysis

In the first chapter of Asian Americans in Dixie: Race Migration in the South, Vivek Bald sought to shed light on the existence of Punjabis in the American South. The narrative he presents is one that challenges the idea that the only immigrants who came to America where those who intended to stay and become American. These migrants did not come to be part of the supposed “nation of immigrants”, but instead came simply to work and “sell the east.” Bald backs up his argument by citing government documents like draft cards and the U.S. census. With this, Bald reasserts the importance of primary sources, like the census, and uses them to dismantle the antiquated idea that “America was solely a nation of immigrants.”
Bald presents the story of the Punjabi migrants who arrived in the Southern United States in the late 19th century and early 20th century. These people came to the U.S., as many did, in search of work. These Punjabi Sikhs came with the intent to be merchants “selling the east”, meaning they were coming over to sell exotic items from the “orient.” Such items included swords, books, carpets, and dishes, in short, anything that could be displayed in a house to show wealth or cultured-ness. At the same time, the nation had been utilizing immigration quotas to limit the amount of people coming in from other countries by race. These regulations were the strictest towards the Chinese and other Asian immigrants, as it denied them citizenship or flat out banned them from entering the country. This showed one of the great oddities of the U.S. in that era; they were unwilling to accept the Chinese as equals, yet they adored the items of the “mystic east.” Such moments in American history stand as the basis for the counter argument to one of the more problematic ethnic history theories; Kennedy’s “nation of immigrants” theory.
As evidence to support his claims, Bald utilizes shipping records, draft cards, and other such government documents. He does this, rather than utilizing secondary sources and testimony. This shows a return to form, in the sense that his conclusions on the activities and ideas of the Punjabi Sikhs that came to the U.S. are based off of logical interpretations of official documents. For example, in places like New Jersey, there were records stating that the Punjabis were coming there in the late 19th century, but based on the quantity of those records, there were not many of them. Meanwhile, in New Orleans, there were many more shipping records and census records recording the presence of Punjabis all coming in around the same time. As for the “orientalist” interest that was taken in the items they were selling, this was backed up by various advertisements from magazines that were offering to sell exotic coats and the like. There were also articles written for newspapers like the New York Times, with some dating as far back as 1898.
What this chapter demonstrates is that the methods used by modern historians should be reliant on primary sources, which should then be reasonably interpreted. Often times, doing so will contradict earlier theories by other historians. If they do, then the hard evidence should outweigh the theories. This does not necessarily mean that the newer theories should be taken entirely as infallible, but rather scrutinized for what it is. In doing so, more evidence can be found to either support or contradict this theory. The more this is done, the clearer the picture we will have on the past.