Detroit Today: Why Detroit’s Bangladeshi and Hmong communities aren’t always considered ‘Asian American’

The Bangladeshi and Hmong communities have rich histories in the City of Detroit.

A woman and her daughter smile with several trays of food

Sharmin Tanim and her daughter at the restaurant during the Bangladeshi Food Festival, where they served handmade pithas, Bangladeshi rice cakes.

The Bangladeshi-American Festival in Warren, which is happening this weekend, attracts thousands of people from across the country. 

The Bangladeshi community is part of the Asian American community, which includes people that originate from over 50 countries, and many more ethnicities. Here in Detroit, Bangladeshi and Hmong residents have rich histories, and particularly the surrounding cities of Hamtramck, Center Line and Warren. 

WDET’s own Nargis Rahman and Dr. Melissa Borja of the University of Michigan’s APIA Studies Department joined Detroit Today to discuss the diversity within Asian American communities in Detroit.

Listen:Why Detroit’s Bangladeshi and Hmong communities aren’t always considered “Asian American”


Nargis Rahman is a reporter for WDET. She also has documented oral histories of Detroit’s Bangladeshi community.

Rahman says while “Asian American” is a label that Bangladeshi Americans technically fall into, it is a broad one that they often don’t feel fully represented by. 

“There’s a long history of our people fighting for our culture and our language even,” says Rahman. “Growing up I never saw stories of people like me…There’s so much rich history that can be preserved and should be celebrated.”

Dr. Melissa Borja is an assistant professor at the University of Michigan in the American Studies and A/PIA Studies Departments. She conducts research on Hmong communities and the policies that govern them.

Borja says the way Asian Americans are stereotyped often masks the way they are disadvantaged. 

“The model minority stereotype assumes that all Asian Americans have college degrees, are doing well, in terms of wealth and income,” says Borja. “The reality is, there are high rates of poverty among some groups in the U.S.”

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