South Asian immigrants today tend to be a more insulated community. Many parents urge their children to marry other "desis," people of the Indian diaspora.
But back then, it was different. The Bengali Muslim men knew they had to do all they could to make it in America.
Echevarria died in 1952 and left her husband to raise the children. Ullah Jr. remembers his sister being sent off to his aunt's house in New Jersey. He did the rest of his growing up with his father in an apartment on East 102nd Street.
His father worked as a cook at the Silver Palms restaurant on Sixth Avenue and 44th Street. He left the house at the crack of dawn for the subway ride. He came home tired, took a nap and then cooked dinner. Rice and curry. Later he and Chowdry opened their own restaurant, The Bengal Garden.
Occasionally they'd head down to the Indian seamen's club in the Lower East Side and after 1947, to the Pakistan League of America, an organization Chowdry and Ullah co-founded.
Ullah Jr. called his father's friends "Chacha," the Bengali Muslim word for uncle. Some of them changed their Bengali names to Charlie and Harry and in the case of Ibrahim -- Abraham.
Ullah Jr. even asked his father once to teach him Bengali. The answer was no.
"He wanted me to be an American boy," Ullah Jr. said, trying to mimic a Bengali accent.
He remembered his father asking a literate friend to pen letters in Bengali to his mother and brother back in Noakhali.
"He would bring them home and I would address them and send them out," he said.
Ullah Jr. grew up playing on the rooftops and hanging out on the streets.
The Puerto Ricans embraced each other, the blacks high-fived. And the Bengalis? They asked: "How was school?"
Ullah Jr. grew up speaking English and Spanish. The Bengali or Bangla side of him diminished but never went away.
"I'm a Banglarican," said Ullah Jr. of his identity. "We assimilated into the neighborhood. I'm immersed in both cultures."
In the late 1960s, his father, then ailing from asthma, returned to Noakhali to remarry. He returned with Moheama, a traditional Bengali woman who was much younger than her husband. Aladdin Ullah is her son.
Ullah Jr. wishes he had accompanied his father on that long trek home. He is 70 now and doesn't think he will ever step foot on his father's homeland.
"I have a whole family I have never met, and will never meet," he said. "Now my father has passed away. His brother is gone. The lines of communication are gone."
Curry on the stove
Chowdry became a key figure in New York. He lobbied Congress to change naturalization laws of the 1940s, connected with African-American Muslim groups in Harlem as well as Jewish and Christian leaders.
At age 32, he married Catherine, a 17-year-old woman who was born in Cuba to Puerto Rican parents, and had two children, Laily and Noor.
Ibrahim Chowdry became a key figure in New York's Bengali community, sort of a "go to" man.
Both Laily and Noor recalled a father who was busy; that he became the guy to call in the Bengali community. He was always rushing out of the house.
Except one day when Noor Chowdry had gone to the Bronx Zoo and come back with a 15-inch catfish he'd caught in the lake. His father was about to leave the house, but when he saw that fish, he took off his jacket, rolled up his sleeves and got a knife out.
Bengalis are known as fish lovers and Ibrahim Chowdry could not give up the thought of a spicy fish curry.
John Ali Jr. also remembers that Bengali food was the one constant from the homeland.
His father, Mustafa "John" Ali, like Chowdry, also came to play an important role for Bengali men in the industrial towns where he worked, including Chester, Pennsylvania, home to a Ford car factory and the Sun Shipbuilding plant along the Delaware River.
Ali learned English from listening to the radio and helped "anchor the broader network of escaped seamen in a series of key locations," Bald wrote.
Ali Jr., 83, remembers his father always having a pot of curry and rice on the stove's back burner. Just in case any of the Bengalis stopped by.
Ali Jr., who wrote on the last census that he was a "black Bangladeshi," moved to Atlanta almost three decades ago, where he settled in the mostly black southwest neighborhood of Cascade. He married a black woman, as had his father, and never saw himself as anything else. In his tenure in the Army, he'd always been colored.
In his youth, he read a lot of Indian history, about independence and the infamous, 18th-century Black Hole of Calcutta incident in which prisoners suffocated in a dungeon.