Boor Singh took on cops, dog breeders, racists, and clairvoyants

illustration based on a 1929 photo³¹

Boor Singh immigrated to California in 1907, married a Black or mixed-race woman, became a fortune teller, and lived a life full of drama and tragedy. I’ve spent months trying to piece together his story, and the more I look, the stranger it gets.

Photo credit: Brannin Dorsey

Concerned neighbors ignore him, and keep working to solve local homelessness crisis

Fremont, California sits at the north end of Silicon Valley, and is the second largest city in Alameda County. The city is home to at least 608 homeless residents — as well as retired Silicon Valley engineer Ruiping Sun, who is now putting his body on the line to ensure that homeless neighbors are not housed anytime soon.

Local elected officials have been searching for solutions to the homelessness crisis, and discovered a model that has been successful in nearby cities: a housing navigation center to provide temporary housing to homeless residents, while supporting them with health and wellness needs…

Babu Bheem Roy’s terrible crime in 1910s California — and the survivor who took him on

Babu Bheem Roy was born in Gorakhpur, India in 1869, passed through England, and immigrated to the United States at age 20, in 1889.

Over the next quarter century, he would marry an Irish woman, become a single father, work as a traveling preacher lecturing on India, marry again, get arrested for incest, and die in a California prison.

Building family and surviving tragedy

Roy started his new life in America in New York and Boston. And it might have been in Boston where he met his wife “Nellie,” an Irish immigrant named Helena M. Spillane. They were married in 1895 at Boston Cathedral, when…

Credit: OpenSFHistory and Daily Alta California

Was he the first South Asian in Northern California?

South Asians started slowly trickling into Northern California during the Gold Rush. We recently found evidence of a South Asian man who lived and died in 1850 San Francisco. In my research, this is the earliest evidence I’ve seen of South Asians in Northern California.

In May 1850, a San Francisco newspaper reported the death of a
“Hindostan” (i.e. South Asian):

“Coroner Gallagher was yesterday called to hold an inquest upon the body of an Hindostan, who died in Happy Valley on Saturday night of general debility, verdict agreeable to the above statement.”

He died in “Happy Valley,” a Gold…

We’ve been finding records of early Indian immigrants to San Francisco advertising for jobs. Here are some of the ads we found.

1899: Hotel or pantry work

San Francisco Call, Dec 16 1899, p12, col 3, “Employment Wanted — Male”

“A young East Indian would like a position as porter in hotel or pantry work. Address box 2275, Call office.”

1905: Languages and cookery

He moved to Texas, fought for citizenship, and married a woman from Louisiana

Abdul Goffer Mondul moved to the United States from India as a teenager in 1881, and built a life for himself in Texas. He worked as a peddler, married a White French-Irish woman named Mabel, and ended up in a difficult court battle for citizenship.

As I write this, the fate of DACA recipients is up in the air, and none of us know whether Congress will give in and stand with the 86% of Americans who support DACA. …

The story of Said Khan, the “thuggee” murderer

San Francisco Call, October 6, 1913, page 1

I’ve been grappling with the story of Said Ali Khan, trying to make meaning of it.

In 1913, in the San Francisco Bay Area, Said Ali Khan strangled and murdered Rosa Domingo, an 18 year old Portuguese woman he was involved with.

He weighted down her body with iron and threw it in the San Francisco Bay.

It was all over the news. I found 20 stories about the case in the San Francisco Call alone.

The stories described Khan as a mystic and hypnotist, who used “thuggee” techniques.

Khan was Punjabi, 27 years old at the time of his…

We’re giving ourselves 12 weeks to try something new

photo: wokandapix

A clinical trial is a research study to see if a new medical treatment (like a drug, diet, or device) works and is safe for people. To join a clinical trial, you need to understand what you’re signing up for. But too many clinical trials are described using inaccessible medical jargon only a scientist could love.

“Prince” Sarath Kumar Ghosh cross-crossed the U.S. 100 years ago

Lecture circuit pamphlets, via SAADA

In the 19th and early 20th century, it was common for lecturers to criss-cross the United States, speaking to local audiences. These lectures were a way to get a glimpse of the world, to inform, and inspire—some compare them to TED talks.

Our friends at the South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA) have been collecting pamphlets advertising South Asian lecturers traveling across the United States.

Here’s one of our favorites, a pamphlet advertising speaker Sarath Kumar Ghosh, a self-described Indian prince. We love the photo and the beautiful typography. (Much more on Ghosh at Sai Shankar’s pulp book blog.)


Credit: Fancycrave/Pexels

For children from South Asia adopted by non-South Asian families abroad

I was looking for resources that might be helpful for South Asian transracial international adoptees. I got the names of several helpful individuals, but here are the most useful organizations and media that I came across.

Got more? Respond with your additions.



See also

Anirvan Chatterjee

I ♥ books, code, walking tours, climate justice, and the city of Berkeley, CA

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