Archiving South Asian Americans

The South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA) makes South Asians, and their stories, physical.

Manisha Claire

September 10, 2019

Archiving South Asian Americans
"Thumbu Sammy," 1911. (Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library, via SAADA)

A newspaper clipping from a 1970 issue of India News and Views, a now-defunct publication for the South Asian diaspora, outlines "how to wear a saree." It’s difficult to find the paper online — but it’s on the South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA).

SAADA’s vaults also include a picture of Dr. Anandibai Joshi, the first Indian woman to graduate with a medical degree from a U.S. university in 1886, and a 1909 picture of Indian farm laborers in California.

SAADA, which Samip Mallick and Michelle Caswell started in 2008, is the largest public archive of South Asian American history. It collects letters, photographs, newspapers, and other artifacts. 

South Asians arrived in America over 200 years ago but their place in American history has been tenuous. Immigration restrictions such as the 1917 Asiatic Barred Zone established South Asians are perpetual foreigners. There were 5.6 million South Asians in the United States in 2017, and Asians are projected to become the largest immigrant population by 2055. But they are underrepresented in American politics, pop culture, and history books.