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Mapping a Radical Legacy of South Asian Activism in the Bay Area

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A tour guide points to something, as his tour group stands on the street.
Anirvan Chatterjee leads a tour group on Telegraph Avenue near campus in Berkeley. (Courtesy of Preeti Mangalashekhar)

An earlier version of this story was originally published on May 6, 2022.

You’ve probably heard of Bobby Seale and The Black Panthers, and Mario Savio and The Free Speech Movement. But California and the Bay Area also were a hotbed of radical South Asian activism that began more than 100 years ago.

Throughout the 20th century, immigrants from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other countries in the region — along with their children — laid the groundwork for social movements that still resonate in California today. And while this Desi legacy has largely been overlooked, two community historians in Berkeley have spent the last decade bringing these stories to life.

Barnali Ghosh and Anirvan Chatterjee run the Berkeley South Asian Radical History Walking Tour. The three-hour tour visits sites where there are often no plaques or markers. But the pair make the history come alive through photographs and props. The two even act out historical quotes and scenes.

They share tales of South Asians from California you probably know, like Vice President Kamala Harris, as well as those you may never have heard of, like freedom fighter Kartar Singh Sarabha. Below, we hit a handful of the stops on the in-depth tour and give you a taste of this little-known history. You also can listen to the full audio episode (above) for a deeper dive into the story.

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