Indian Muslims in 1910 Oakland

3 Indian Muslims, a Russian Jewish landlord, and an unfinished story

Detail of the 1910 census record

I was looking at local census records, when I ran across something intriguing.

The 1910 census records show three Indian men living at 667 Fifth Street, Oakland, California (near present-day Jack London Square):

They were born in India, and immigrated to the US in 1906, the year of the San Francisco earthquake and fire.

Detail of the 1910 census record

The Indians were listed as “laborers” doing “odd jobs.” Like many immigrants in their neighborhood, none of the three were listed as being literate in English, and the boy was listed as not being in school.

Detail of the 1910 census record

The three Indian Muslim men (described as “India Arabian”) were boarding in the home of Philip Baker, a Jewish (“Yiddish”) man who immigrated from Russia in 1887, ran a meat market, and lived with his four California-born children.

Many of their neighbors were immigrants from Europe. Some of the people living on their street included:

  • four unrelated Italian immigrant men living together—three of them working as bootblacks
  • Bartolo and Letitia Cormella and their four children—immigrants from Italy, with Bartolo working as a fisherman
  • Benjamin and Rebecca Simon and their two children — Jewish immigrants from Russia, working as secondhand clothing dealers
  • Philip Baker and his four children—a Jewish family from California, running a meat market
  • Rebecca Schwartz, a Jewish immigrant from Russia working as a housekeeper for the Baker family
  • Alexander and Elizabeth Alencastre and their two children, immigrants from Portugal
Their neighborhood, in a 1912 map of Oakland

I’ve been digging into this story, and only keep hitting dead ends. I can’t find other records of them, and none of those names appear to be in the 1920 census.

Who were they? How were they related to one another? How did they find themselves in Oakland? How did these working class men relate to their neighbors, and to the twenty or so Indian students at UC Berkeley, the next city over?

We like being able to neatly wrap up stories, but we’re often stuck with these tiny fragments, giving us incomplete glimpses into the past.

Sources and further reading

This is based largely on U.S. Census records made available online by FamilySearch, using the Mooseroots census search, now no longer online. See the original census record and the previous page. I used Google Maps and the Old Oakland historical map explorer to find their neighborhood.

If you’re intrigued by these stories, read Vivek Bald’s amazing book Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America, which explores the lives of working class Indian Muslim immigrants to the East Coast and South, between 1880–1930. Bald did tremendous work with historical records like this, supplemented by oral histories from their descendants.