But the sons of that land who came to America seeking a better life remained invisible. Until Bald began digging around.
Last month, he published "Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America."
The book has generated palpable excitement among the descendants of the Bengali immigrants.
"I just said, 'wow,'" said Nurul Amin, 62, whose father once sold hotdogs from a Harlem pushcart.
"This put a stamp on our world," he said.
Shaik, an author and scholar of the Afro-Creole experience, said she was finally learning her grandfather's history. It dispelled notions of a monolithic black identity and connected her to a faraway land.
California native Vivek Bald grew up with a strong sense of connection to India. He heard stories from his Indian immigrant mother that made a mark when he began making movies about the diaspora.
He'd produced a documentary about taxi drivers and was struck by the class divide in South Asian communities in America. The people who came in the wake of 1965 had taken the reins of community representation. Yet, they had little in common with newer waves of working-class immigrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Bald's research led to his newly published book documenting the first waves of Bengali immigration.
In his exploration of the diaspora, he met actor and stand-up comic Aladdin Ullah, 44, one of the sons of Habib Ullah, who'd arrived by ship from what is now Bangladesh in the 1920s. Bald was fascinated with Ullah's story. He'd never imagined such a history.
"This was a population who came to the United States at a time when this country had erected quite draconian race-based immigration laws," Bald said. "They came during that time but were able to build networks in order to access jobs all over the United States.
"The story," said Bald, "was so completely different than what I had heard about South Asian immigration in the United States."
Their memories had survived in the African-American and Latino families into which they married.
Bald began researching their history. It took him nine years to meticulously comb through marriage and death records, other court documents, newspaper stories and archival treasures.
He is now in the process of making a documentary film.
The project became a series of astonishments for Bald.
"I think the revelations I had along the way had to do with how resourceful both of these groups of men were in dealing with a home country that was under the rule of the British and on the other hand, another country that was closing its doors to them and passing increasingly more restrictive and racist immigration laws," Bald said.
Aladdin Ullah, whose one-man act "Dishwasher Dreams" explores his father's experiences, imagined how difficult life must have been for the Bengalis.
"These were illiterate men who came to America with hopes of a better life. That's like me going to Sweden to start a Mexican restaurant," he said.
"They learned the American hustle, not the American Dream."
Ullah was young when his father died.
"I rejected my culture. I was a hip-hop kid, a kid from Harlem. I listen to rap. I didn't have any connection to Bengalis."
But it was an acting role that led Ullah to reconsider his father's identity.
He was preparing to play the part of a stereotypical Middle Eastern prince in a Hollywood movie. "Death to America," he shouted at the mirror, practicing his line.