South Asian walking tour brings buried Berkeley history to life
By Javaria Khan
19 October 2017
Photo courtesy of Javaria Khan
Image: Anirvan Chatterjee, one of the curators of the Berkeley South Asian Radical History Walking Tour, leads a South Asian history tour through Berkeley.
CED alumna Barnali Ghosh (M.L.A. ‘01) and her husband Anirvan Chatterjee are the curators of the Berkeley South Asian Radical Walking Tour, which began in 2012. The tour specifically shares stories of people with roots in South Asia, including people from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, and Afghanistan.
Ghosh and Chatterjee came to Berkeley in the late 1990s as graduate students. After hearing numerous stories of South Asian activism in the area, Ghosh and Chatterjee began to conduct interviews and collect oral histories.
“We saw that the South Asian community had some amazing activists and we wanted to bring those stories to the activist community and the larger community,” said Chatterjee. “We felt like it was important to tell those to build our shared understanding of who we are as South Asians.”
The couple tries to highlight a wide spectrum of themes along the tour, including narratives of feminism, anti-colonialism, LGBTQ+ rights, labor rights, and environmentalism. The walking tour often begins with an anecdote about Ali Ishtiaq, a gay Bangladeshi man and the creator of Trikone, the first queer group focused on South Asians. This relatively unknown story is the type of history Ghosh and Chatterjee enjoy sharing with the group.
The tour includes six stops and takes approximately three hours to complete. At one point in the tour, Chatterjee and two volunteers reenact a 1970 rally held by students from India protesting then-Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Ghosh and Chatterjee invested more than a decade of research before they started leading tours in 2012.
Through this walking tour, Ghosh and Chatterjee aim to deconstruct the stereotype of South Asians as “model minorities” who study, work hard, and do not engage in social justice movements.
“[The stereotype] overlooks the lives of Asian Americans who don’t neatly fit the stereotype, including folks who are working class, refugees, undocumented, queer, artists, activists, etc.,” Chatterjee said.
Since 2012, the couple has conducted 126 tours, with about two tours given each month. The proceeds from the tour are all donated to South Asian community projects.
Read more details about this walking tours, and Ghosh and Chatterjee here.