This Bangladeshi American Organizer Is Rallying Her Community to Support Black Lives

Supermajority Education Fund

June 5, 2020

In mid-March, Bronx community organizer Thahitun Mariam had just arrived home after a trip abroad when the calls from members of Mariam’s Bangladeshi American community began pouring in. New York City was starting to shut down due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and many of Mariam’s neighbors needed assistance.

“I had a lot of community members who were calling saying ‘I need help filing for unemployment,’ ‘I need help with SNAP,’” Mariam told Supermajority News. “There was just so much desperation.”

After reaching out to other organizers who were also seeing an increased need in their communities, Mariam decided to co-found the Bronx Mutual Aid Network, which helps Bronx residents access groceries, prescriptions, and other household necessities. Within a week of the group’s founding in April, it had already received 100 requests for assistance.

Supermajority News talked with Mariam about the philosophy behind the mutual aid network and why, even amid this pandemic, immigrant communities need to support the movement for Black lives.

Supermajority News: What does mutual aid mean to you?

Thahitun Mariam: Mutual aid work is political work at the end of the day. We saw there was a huge issue of food insecurity in the borough and that we needed to fulfill that need. 

The reason I say it is political work is because the folks that come to us for help are folks that are facing a lot of other issues in other aspects of their lives — whether it is due to not having access to health care, not having access to government programs, or being discriminated against due to their race, religion or other factors that go into their identity.

You and other members of the Bronx Mutual Aid Network also marched this weekend against police brutality. Why was marching important to you?

As soon as these protests started happening around the country standing up against police brutality and the carceral state that exists in America, we knew we needed to be there to support this work.

Myself and some of the others from the Bronx Mutual Aid Network marched in the Bronx this weekend because we need to show up and build community. We brought masks to the protests for anyone who needed one, and our sister organization, the Queens Mutual Aid Network, was distributing water. We wanted to show up and make sure that people are cared for while they protest. 

There is a long history of Bangladeshi activism that dates back to the independence movement in the 1960s and 1970s. Do you think that history affects your activism today?

I am currently 29, and I have lived in the Bronx since 1996. I was six years old when we migrated from Bangladesh. When it comes to activism and solidarity — especially in the context of liberation — I think that my parents and the elderly generation of folks in our diaspora grew up knowing that we need to be fighting for something. They all fought for independence. I think what is happening right now is that we are seeing the Black American community really fighting for their space and their ability to exist in America.

Building solidarity also means being aware of the societal issues and the institutional issues that exist and being aware of how we are working to uplift one another. 

In recent months, there has been a lot of talk in Asian American communities about the importance of solidarity, especially when it comes to civil rights. How do you talk about these issues with your community?

I usually navigate these conversations with Bangladeshis by talking about this collectivism that needs to exist if we are going to fight for these issues. If we organize and if we collectivize and say ‘housing is important to us, good food is important to us, and education is important to us’ — if we fight together with our neighbors who are Black and brown, that is when the realization comes in. At the end of the day, we are all working-class people who need certain basic things to be met in order to live fulfilled and full lives.