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Mamnunul Haq

Oral history interview conducted by Svetlana Kitto

September 06, 2018

Call number: 2018.006.33

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KITTO: It's September 26, 2018. I'm Svetlana Kitto here with Mamnun Haq in his office at the Department of Population Health, NYU School of Medicine. And this is our first interview for the Brooklyn Historical Society's Muslims in Brooklyn Public History Project, and we're gonna begin. If you could just start by telling me where and when you were born and a little bit about your early life.

HAQ: Okay. Thank you, first of all. You came all the way here from Brooklyn to Manhattan. I was born in Bangladesh, and it's the island called Sandwip. Actually, the spelling I can tell you, S-A-N-D-W-I-P. It was one of the big i-- islands in -- in the country, but right now, it's not that big. But still now -- you know, this came back from the ocean, so now, it's gonna be big later. So, I 1:00was born there, and actually, I was bor-- I -- I'm a child of... I was born in a very big family. My family members or my brothers, sisters are -- you know, we -- we're -- we are 14. Actually, we are now 14, the brothers, sisters. And I was born, you know, in 1962, and I'm almost my father's oldest son. And I grew up there because my father finished his, you know, job -- not retired. Actually, at some point, he probably quit and then, you know, he went back to his hometown, and I was born there. And I went to school there in front of my house. In a village house, there is a school. Actually, my father built that school in the 2:00year 1963 or '64 probably. Actually, he gave the whole land, his land, his money, his worker. He didn't take a single penny from anyone --

KITTO: Oh, wow.

HAQ: -- and not even from the government and then hired teachers and then he oversees everything as a, you know, guidance. I'll tell you about his background because his background is also in the, you know, education field and then, so... And, you know, he didn't take any money. And I -- I think in the village, people wanted to have, you know, a school college, and he worked really hard to, you know, establish those.

And I went to that school luckily and then I finished my elementary there and went to the high school. And that high school, also, my father was very instrumental to build that high school. He served for a long time on that school 3:00as, you know, chair of the governing [inaudible], and until -- I mean, he's dead. Like a few years before, he just, you know, retired from there. And then I went to college school -- a college and university, those in -- in the town Chittagong and the Sandwip. So, that's -- that's all first of all.

And -- and secondly, I -- I mean if you ask my livelihood -- I mean, you know, my childhood, though I -- my family was a big family and... But -- but my older brothers, they're like older than me. Brother, sister, they're, like, married and worked, you know, in the capital and the second capital, which is Chittagong, Dhaka, you know, and... But we are five siblings mostly, but, you know, I grew up in -- in the village. And -- a-- and we had really a good time 4:00and the lea-- I mean the learned lot from -- from the village.

And though my family was one of the very, you know, aristocratic, Muslim, you know, family in -- in -- in -- in the town, and so we had lots of different opportunities, you know, to, you know, go to school, the college and a mosque like madrasa, which, you know, to learn Arabic. Those are part of, you know, people's life there, and...

But unfortunately, I didn't have my dad for long. I -- I think he was old enough to -- or -- or like, you know, to leave, but I was very young. He passed away in the year 1979, and I was 15, 16 years old probably, yeah -- 17 years, 17, 17 5:00years, yeah. And then, you know, we survived with my mom and, you know, my s-- my other siblings and -- yeah.

And I was there until -- in the island in Sandwip like to -- I mean be-- I could say like, you know, before coming to America. But once I passed my high school and then I went to college in Chittagong, which is the city, the second biggest city. Two years, I went there and two years and then I went back to Sandwip like another college. Yeah. And so, back and forth, but always I was in touch with my, you know, hometown. Though all my brothers and sisters, they used to live in Dhaka and Chittagong, so I was with them, but, you know, I always kept in touch with home and the neighbors, people. I mean those are very important in those 6:00days. Like still, like you know, when I talk to my mom home and then she was saying like, "Oh, those people asking about you, the other neighbors like, you know, in the village. Like, you know, 'When your son is coming, and we are getting old. We're not gonna see him again.'" So those -- I mean, I -- I -- I really remember that. I really feel like, you know, people loves and how much the people love our family and us, so that -- that's like really important.

Those -- you know, I -- we really enjoyed our -- the young life in home our home. It is totally different. Environment was nice, and it's -- it was a very nice, you know, village in town, the Sandwip and... I mean at that time. We're not talking about right now. Right now, it's a lot different. Like, you know, it's -- it looks like... Right now, you could say like, "It's not anymore a suburb like our village. It is -- it looks like a town now."

KITTO: Okay.

HAQ: There's running buses, car, trucks, like everything in the island. You know 7:00development, you know, they developed all those streets and, you know, roads and everything. But at that time, it was -- you can enjoy the village charm. Like, you know, it's what -- it's what called a village, you know?

KITTO: Yeah.

HAQ: So, you can enjoy those, but you're not gonna... Even like when I go, I don't enjoy that because --

KITTO: Right.

HAQ: -- it is totally different right --

KITTO: Right.

HAQ: -- right now. So --

KITTO: Did you wanna tell me more about your father and his background?

HAQ: Yeah. I could tell you my father. My father... You know, my grandparents and great-grandparents, they -- they were very religious people, very, very religious. They used to do -- what call is this? I mean, goes to different, different places and gathered. He was a very religious man. People respect them a lot. That they talk about Islam, religion, you know, how you need to pray, you 8:00need to, you know, read the Qur'an and don't do this, do that. Like, you know, they're just kind of scholar at that time, very educated people. I'm talking about, like you know, even like a couple hundred years ago, you know, and my great-grandparents because my father was born in 1899.


HAQ: So... And -- and, you know? But my grandfather, let me, you know, tell that to the... My grandfather was very famous. He was very popular and people know him -- used to know him that one of the very good speakers, public speaker, you know, so orator or something, you know. Any places he goes, like, you know, people loved him, like, you know the way he speak. He talked about religion. That was, you know, his -- that's the preacher like you could say like -- yeah?

KITTO: Yeah.

HAQ: Right, yeah. So, different, different part of the country and even Rangoon, which is right now called Myanmar, and he was very popular there. People know -- 9:00you know, used to know him, my grandfather.

So, my father was his youngest son, and obviously, at that time, I'm talking about -- look at this 1980 -- 1899, he was born.

KITTO: Were they still in this, or they're -- they're in Sandwip at this time?

HAQ: Right. No.

KITTO: Okay, yeah.

HAQ: At that time, he was in Sandwip, yeah, yeah, so -- and then he... At that time, the Muslim people -- I mean, children, family or religious family, they don't -- they didn't want to send their kids to general educations like, you know, English, you know, those things and instead Arabic. They always send their kids to madrasa learn, you know, about Arabic, about -- about -- what is it? -- I mean Arabic education, which is Islamic education, right, but not necessarily like you have to learn English or this, this, this.

But my dad, also, the same. He went to madrasa, but he was a very talented 10:00student -- what I heard and when I read his, you know, life, his bio -- and -- and then he was very talented. When he was in co-- madrasa, at that time, he used to, I mean, read, you know, the books, English, law book, those. His intention was totally different, and -- but he graduated as an Islamic... You know he is -- as, you call, maulana, which is like religious, you know, top of the education chart.

KITTO: A scholar --

HAQ: A scholar of the Islamic like -- you know?

KITTO: Mm-hmm.

HAQ: He graduated, but he learned those English and -- and, you know, read. He used to read all those -- the, you know, law book and -- you know? A-- and then he -- when he passed his, you know, madrasa and then he just appointed in the same madrasa as a teacher, so... It's a long history. His life history is very long, so I'm wanna make it short, but otherwise, it's not gonna be -- you know, out of the time, so...


And then he -- anyway then he learned English. He was -- he is fluent with a few languages, seven -- I think seven languages, and English from one of the very famous newspapers that's called the Statesman. It is -- still exists. It was first published, I think, 1875 and then he used to read this newspaper from editorial to, you know, the last page, everything always and --

KITTO: Was that an English paper?

HAQ: English paper.

KITTO: English paper.

HAQ: The Statesman, yeah. It's --

KITTO: Yeah, like from England?

HAQ: From -- no, from India.

KITTO: Oh, from India? Okay, okay.

HAQ: India. It was Indian subcontinent at that time.

KITTO: Oh, I see. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

HAQ: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh was one country. You know, I'm talking about early --

KITTO: Yeah, a long time --

HAQ: -- twenties, yeah, so... And then... And he used to talk himself like, you know, English, try to, you know, make his language faster or fluent, you know? And then... Anyway, he met with one of the fa-- famous men, and he appointed to 12:00one of the famous high school now in Chittagong. Very -- I mean, it's a government high school. I think it was still like number one high school in -- that's called Chittagong Government -- Government Muslim High School. And he -- he then joined as a teacher, and he worked there, and he used to teach English, Arabic, and Farsi because Farsi also was his language too. It was a subject he learned. He was a Farsi teacher. And then he moved to other city, which is total -- I mean north of Bangladesh, and we are from the south, and he started his life there. I would just want to make -- you know, I can give you his -- some bio which is, you know, one of the -- from the book. We found it.

He worked as a teacher for government, and it's -- and private for 12 years then he appointed as a municipal commissioner. He appointed as a -- a -- a -- a 13:00director of board of education. He appointed as a -- a -- a -- a director of all the cooperative ba-- cooperative banks at that time and lots of other things like house committee, I mean different, different things. I mean, so many things he used to do, the jail instructor, religion ins-- instructor, auditor of Anjuman-e-Islamia. Actually, he just co-founded in that area, and also he was a First Class magistrate.

KITTO: Oh, okay.

HAQ: So, his total career has changed. He's supposed to be an Islamic something. He's supposed to teach in madrasa or imam, and he also -- he was also imam. He -- he was imam for central mosque of that area, main mosque. He was the imam. Like once a week, which is Friday jummah prayer, he used to serve as a -- as an imam. And so, he was a very religious man. On the other hand, you know, the both side of his education, so he ended up with the First Class Magistrate. It was a 14:00job, and at that time, the British government gave him -- you know? And he al-- sorry. And he built lots of madrasa schools and, you know, helped to build those in the area where he served for twenty-something years.

And then he... I think at 30-- by age of 31, he became the First Class Magistrate, you know?


HAQ: And -- and then the British government awarded him as a -- a title like khan bahadur, with -- with a gold medal certificate for all of his work that -- what he had done for the public interest of those work. And, of course then, he was also a politician. Like, you know, he was involved with politics at that time, that's called Muslim League, and he was one of the leader. And later, you know, he came back to his hometown where he was. So that's -- you know, that was my father, and we are very proud at -- as his son or as his children. And thank 15:00God like even -- even here in America, even in my area where we talk about like the people from my hometown and also in my hometown in Bangladesh, Sandwip or some part of Chittagong District, all the big district, like people know the family name like -- you know? So, we don't have to tell people who... I -- I -- if I introduce myself, I don't have to tell who am I. Just if I say if I'm son of, you know, Mister --

KITTO: What's his name?

HAQ: Yeah. His name was Khabir -- I mean his name is Khabirul Haq, but his title is long, so people call -- everybody knows him like khan bahadurs. That's his title.

KITTO: Oh, wow, okay.

HAQ: That's -- that's not his name.

KITTO: That's the title, yeah.

HAQ: That's the British government title. But his name is Khabirul Haq. So, he was maulana, like Maulana Muhammad Khabirul Haq. That's his ti-- name but all those title added at the end, you know, so...


KITTO: So -- but he wasn't as religious as your grandparents you said?

HAQ: He was religious.

KITTO: He was --

HAQ: He was very reli--

KITTO: -- religious. He was --

HAQ: He was religious.

KITTO: -- very religious? Okay.

HAQ: Yeah, he's religious. See, that's what I'm saying. He was -- he teach -- he's taught in madrasa and the school and... But I'm saying he's supposed to be like, you know -- like them, but he changed his career a little -- a little different. But he -- he was -- he was a very religious man. He was imam, you know?

KITTO: Mm-hmm.

HAQ: But besides that, but I'm -- I'm trying to tell that time if you are imam or if you are the religious person, you gotta stay on that. You shouldn't practice those --

KITTO: Mm-hmm, you're right.

HAQ: -- things that what my --

KITTO: The seculars --

HAQ: -- father -- my father did. And the interesting thing, well two of his good friends -- one -- the both of them -- okay, well -- was the prime minister, at that time of Bengal, like with Indian subcontinent. So, he was invited, Khawaja Nazimuddin who was my dad's very good friend, almost the same age, and he 17:00introduced him in the parliament that, "Mister Ka--" Because my father went there to speak in the parliament and then let's say he introduced him, "Mr. Khan Bahadur Khabirul Haq. First of all, he's a good friend of mine, and he's the eye-opener of Bengal maulanas." Means -- like maulanas mean like who are religious people. Eye-opener means my -- my dad, the way he's trying to say that my father do not practice those religions that you have. Religion means that only you pray for God. This is not only their religion. Religion means you have to help others. Religion means this, that. Religion means like, you know, you -- you shouldn't do that. You should do the... That's the way he just said all -- that's why people... And religious, I mean at that time here like b-- Black and White that there's segregation. It was there like Hindu and Muslim.

KITTO: Right.

HAQ: And my dad was the advocate. Like he -- he did -- when Mahatma Gandhi 18:00visited the area when the riot started, Hindu and Muslims, and everything they gave to my dad. I think it's 1949 probably. And after separation, af-- after India became independent -- I mean after British. So, my father earned a lot of, you know, things. Like people respected him a lot because he -- he always believed at the end of the day, we are all human being. It doesn't matter what religion you follow, right? He -- he believed that if you're born in a Hindu family, you sup-- you're supposed to follow a Hindu religion. I was born in a Muslim family means I follow, you know, Muslim religion, Islam like, you know? So that's the difference. At the end of the day, we are all, you know, created by God.

KITTO: Right.

HAQ: So, those things my pro-- my father always tell people and --

KITTO: He taught you?

HAQ: Huh?

KITTO: Did he teach that?

HAQ: Yeah. I mean and I found him very -- you know? As I said, like, you know, 19:00when he died, I was 16, 17 -- 17 years old. But, yes, he -- even like when a child, he used to teach me. Like, you know, even here in -- in school, he says, "Don't teach my child English. Just give them homework. I'll teach him." My father always say like, you know, "They -- they don't speak well English. They don't -- they don't know very well English, you know, in school, in the village," you know?

KITTO: Yeah. Mm-hmm. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

HAQ: So, he says like, "If you lear-- you cannot learn good from them." That why my dad always try to like --

KITTO: So, he spent a lot of time with you?

HAQ: A lot of time during my study, but he was -- at that time, he was aged. Like he was -- I mean when I was in school, like, you know what, in school coll -- school like, you know, high school, like he was over 70 years old, 70 -- 70, 75 at some point I believe. And then all this and good things, like, you know, love people.

KITTO: What about your mother?

HAQ: I have to -- yeah.

KITTO: What was your mother like?

HAQ: My mother, she's still alive, and she used to live here with us, and the 20:00last couple of years, she is in Bangladesh. Probably she's not coming, and she's -- she love to stay, you know, in my hometown with my father's grave and my father's old house and everything, you know? She -- I think she enjoyed that, you know, but she doesn't have any children nearby. But only my two s-- I mean my few, you know, brother and sister, they're living in -- in town, which is Chittagong, right?

KITTO: Yeah.

HAQ: You know, you have to cross the ocean, you know, so, but my mother love to live there. So, this is... But she's aged, but thank God, she's healthy, you know? And the last night, I spoke with her, and so...

KITTO: So, what did you end up --? When you went to college, what did -- what were you studying? What were you interested in as a young person?

HAQ: Oh, okay. At the -- at the beginning like, you know, I was interested... 21:00You know, we all went to school, college, like time to then change. Like your children, they change their mind. "I'm gonna be there a what? I'm gonna -- I'm gonna be a lawyer, I'm gonna be a doctor, I'm gonna be an engineer." So time to them is -- have changed a lot.

And at the beginning, I thought I will be, you know, a doctor at some point. And -- and in my country, I think, it's still -- it's still, you know, follow -- you know, people follow the same thing. I mean parents always want their child to be a -- to be an engineer or a doctor, I mean a medical doctor. No -- no general line education. Like, you know, people who studied public health, you know, it started like, you know, some other things, liberal arts or economics, you know, political science, you know, you finish your honors and master's. That's what people do. But all these parents, that's their expectation from children, so... And there was no difference from my parents too, I believe. But my father didn't 22:00mind even though like, you know, "You be a lawyer," because he was also interested something like with -- with his children, and none of them didn't, you know, go or follow that line. Because my father was a magistrate because, you know, he -- he passed those exam and everything, and he became a law -- magistrate means like a lawyer. Like he's kind of judge, and he wanted his -- one of ch-- child to be a -- you know, a -- a lawyer or something and then...

But I -- I was thinking when I was in college and finished my bachelor's degree, and I decided to be -- you know, to study law, and I went to law school too, but I didn't finish. By that time, I got a job and started a new life and got married, you know, and then, you know, came to America, so I -- I couldn't finish that. But I was thinking about finishing law degree and...

Well, when I was in college, the first year, the second year in college, I was 23:00pretty much interested to be a -- to join in -- in -- in the, you know, movie of about to... I wanted to be a -- an actor, you know, because my brother, my second brother, he was a very famous actor, a very famous actor not only Bangladesh, in the subcontinent. He played -- I think when a child -- when he was a child, he played in Bollywood. Like at that time, it wasn't Bollywood. It's India movie. So he was a child and -- and then in the '50s like beg-- beginning or -- or middle of '50s, like, you know, like in 1955 or '57 at some point, he jo-- joined the Pakistan movie as a hero like, you know, Indian movies you see, like, here. And then he -- he ended up a very famous actor, and he --

KITTO: Wow --

HAQ: -- he did lots of movies, TV drama like -- you know? And -- and I was so 24:00interested, and I already requested him. He say, "Yeah, finish your master's degree and then I will put you, you know, if you are interested." Later, you know, my mind changed. I wanna be a lawyer, a politician, something like that, you know, so... But unfortunately, my brother is not alive. He passed away like a few years ago. He suffered for a couple of years from cancer and -- and... But no one from my family went to, you know, the film industry, you know? So anyway, it was my ambition when I was in college and then later once I finished and now, I said, "I wanna be a lawyer, I wanna be a politician," you know?

KITTO: Yeah.

HAQ: I was involved with politics and then so I wanna be a, you know, politician like a parliament member like, you know, a minister of the government like -- 25:00something like that and -- but it changed. It didn't happen, and I [laughter] ended up to work in a bank. And then after four -- four or five years and then I came to America here in New York and then the different life started here as an immigrant, you know?

KITTO: Right. So before we get there, what...? So, you went to Chittagong for college, right?

HAQ: First two years --

KITTO: First years --

HAQ: -- in Chittagong College and then I went back to Sandwip, which is a gover-- a government college of Sandwip, one of -- one of the college, yeah.

KITTO: Government college, yeah.

HAQ: Yeah. And -- and -- and it was under Chittagong University. So, I finished my bachelor's degree there.

KITTO: And what was the political situation at that time?

HAQ: At that time? It wasn't that bad. What -- what we have seen, you know, recently or we see all the time happening in Bangladesh right now, it wasn't that bad. But this is a long time ago, of course, and that country was a new, 26:00means got independent in the year 1971. And like '79, '78, like six, seven years, eight, nine years later, you know, it wasn't that bad, you know? But we had a very... We had a problem during '74, '75 after flood and everything, you know, so people died for hunger and those during Nixon time and, you know, so... And -- but later the political, it wasn't that bad, and I was pretty much involved -- sorry.

KITTO: It's okay.

HAQ: I were -- no, I was pretty much involved with the politics, the student politics at that time. But it wasn't bad, and it wasn't that risk of life. Right now, I mean there's a real risk -- people losing their life for politics, and I 27:00mean always fight, killing, you know, I mean, a martyr you can see all the time. So, it wasn't that time, you know?

KITTO: Yeah.

HAQ: That time, it was much, much, you know, safer than today. Yeah. So...

KITTO: But by the time you left, what was it like?

HAQ: Yeah, the time I left 1991, it was a big change from... It was a dictator government for an army government, like army turn into a civilian government, but it was a dictatorship under President Ershad. And then all the party became -- you know, came together and fought back and then forced him to resign. He resigned and at the same year I left the country and it was -- and then election, you know, the fair election. One of the party -- actually I was -- belongs to them at that time. So, the party came to the power. But I quit my 28:00politics when I was in Bangladesh honestly. I -- I remember I joined a -- a demonstration, this rally demonstration, you know?

KITTO: In Chittagong?

HAQ: Dhaka, in the capital.

KITTO: Oh, in Dhaka? Okay.

HAQ: Dhaka capital. So, a lot of people got killed because the government put the army, and I was almost, you know, entrapped. I run -- I ran, ran and then -- then when I saved my -- the life. And after that I said, "Why I'm doing it because this is not the politics." I mean, okay and then I decided, you know what, I'll -- I'll -- I'm gonna quit this. If I need to run for any office in the future, I do have a good background in back home, you know, that constituency where I-- I'm from. People know us, and I'm in politics people know. Once the time comes then I'll see it. But this is nothing. Just, you know, you go there and --

KITTO: You're just risking your life.

HAQ: Right. Yeah, wasting time and people. I mean, this is not politics. This is -- this is really bad, and I decided to quit for -- for a certain time. And 29:00after that, you know, I never -- be active. I was... Once I start to work in a bank, I was concentrating like work, family, like, you know, my mom, my -- you know, and my siblings, my other family members, having a good time. I was a young man like, you know, in my... I'm talking about like, you know, when I was like 20 years or 22 or some age. And then, you know, I got married and then I came to America, you know

KITTO: Yeah. So --

HAQ: So, really up to '91, there was a big change in the government and -- but now, it's a different politics in Bangladesh. Yeah.

KITTO: So, what was the process of you coming to America, and how did that decision come to be and -- ?

HAQ: Okay. I mean, actually, I -- my wife, I came through my wife. When I got 30:00married, my wife is, at that time, hold her -- I mean, she was a green card holder here and -- because her parents used to live here. And she came here, but she never stay here for long, like for a few months and then go back. She went to school back home and, you know, even her siblings, other brothers.

So when I got married with her, she was in college, and I was 25 and, you know, just entering 26. She was, I think, 19, 18 or 19, yeah, 19 and then... No, 20 actually. I'm sorry, 20, 26, yeah. I'm sorry, 20. So, she was in college. I mean, I think fourth year in college, and we got married, and I worked. I'm in a bank and then she -- she -- she cannot stay there for long. After 11 months, 31:00within 11 months, you have to be -- you know, come to America. Otherwise, you're gonna lose your green card. So, she was back and forth, and I couldn't decide that I can come or not. I'm -- I'm thinking like, you know, Do I need to go or...? But one-- once I had an ambition like to come to America when I was in college, and a lot of my friends, they applied to come to America. It was a student visa like, you know, those. I was thinking about it at the time.

But -- but when I started to work in Bangladesh, my ambition had just totally changed. I don't need to go. But one point, I -- I thought like, If I don't go, she's gonna lose her green card because she has to stay here. And how long her father just, you know, giving her plane fare and bringing her here for a few months and go back? How long she can do that? And then, you know, one day, we talked about it and then I applied for a visa, as an immigrant visa because as a 32:00spouse -- you know?

KITTO: Mm-hmm.

HAQ: And it -- it was fast at that time. Like 18 months or something, I got my visa then I decided, you know, to come here. Even I didn't take my promotion. At the same year, I was supposed to get a promotion. My senior vice president -- vice president and senior vice president call me in their office to say, "We heard you are leaving. If you are leaving, if you take -- I mean you -- it is due. You deserve it. You'll get your promotion. If you don't take it, we can give it to some other, you know? And just let us know that are you coming back or not?" They thought I'm -- I'll -- I'll come and go back.

Then one of my colleagues asked me like, "I'm seeing you are leaving, so if you take the promotion if it's not -- it's not worthy. Why you are taking the promotion? If you take it, I'm gonna be one year back, and I'll get --" Only two -- one people would get promotion from one branch, the same branch, only me. And 33:00I say, "You know what, okay, no problem. It'll -- you'll get it." And then I didn't take it, and I came to America.

And I thought I could do much better because, you know, as a life. When I came here, I was 29 or something, and I thought, It would be a better chance and lots of opportunity will be here. And a young man coming from bank, I could be a good banker in America. It was -- I thought that way honestly. And, obviously, even if I -- if I get any job at that time, I could be a good banker here too. I was very good and, you know, I... Still, I remember my farewell was so well, and they talked about me how I -- efficient like -- you know. Sometimes, I work like a very experienced banker like -- you know, so... Because those came very dedicated and young man, you know?

KITTO: Mm-hmm.

HAQ: So, in 25, 20 when I started my job, so we always think about work, nothing else, you know. Giving like, you know, better work, better service. Bank is 34:00customer service mostly, right?

KITTO: Mm-hmm.

HAQ: You have to satisfy your customer. And my -- my desk was also customer service, like doing everything, like, in -- in -- in the desk. So, I thought it's -- it was -- you know, I could do much better here. But I tried to when I came here, and I didn't get any banking job. But at that time, one bank hire -- hire me. Like they, you know, accepted, but later, they merged with another bank and then decided not hire, which is Manufacturers Hanover Trust with Chase Manhattan Bank at the -- I'm sorry, Chemical Bank at that time and -- which is Chemical Bank, Manufacturers Hanover Trust now, which is Chase. The three different banks, but now came like Chase -- at that time, Chase Manhattan Bank, so... And Chemical Bank, they hired. I think Chemical Bank merged -- Manufacturers Hanover merged with Chemical Bank, so...

KITTO: Mm-hmm. Did you come directly to Brooklyn?


HAQ: Yes. Because my father-in-law -- oh, by the way, my older brother used to live in New York here.

KITTO: Oh, okay.

HAQ: He's here now, you know? He lives in Hollis, yeah, and he came like three years before me, so... And my -- my father-in-law, you know, their family used to live in the Brooklyn, which is near to the Brookdale Hospital in East New York. So, I came there --

KITTO: To East New York?

HAQ: East New York, yes, so... And --

KITTO: Did you have children yet?

HAQ: At that time? No.

KITTO: No? Okay.

HAQ: No. My children were born here.

KITTO: Okay.

HAQ: They're born in 1993. Actually, I came here in 1991. I got married in 1988, so, you know, we had our -- had our fir-- first children 1993, and it was twin, one boy, one girl, yeah. I think you met with my daughter or -- or -- you know?


KITTO: Someone did, not me.

HAQ: Someone has?

KITTO: Yeah.

HAQ: Hasiba Haq, yeah.

KITTO: Yeah. Hasiba.

HAQ: So... And this is it, and, you know, I ended up here in America. And now, this is my city, my country, and I put everything here, my energy, my time, everything here in America. And I -- it looks like... I mean, it is. It is true. Like, I spent more than half of my life here in America, yeah.

KITTO: Right. So, what --?

HAQ: So --

KITTO: So, you were -- you landed in East New York.

HAQ: Right.

KITTO: And then you started looking for work in banks. You couldn't get --

HAQ: I tried for -- believe it or not, I tried for three months.

KITTO: Oh, okay.

HAQ: Just the banking.

KITTO: Just the banking?

HAQ: All the banks, like, you know, I went to the personnel department. I put my resumes there, and they did my interview. At that -- I mean, actually, it was -- at that time, 1991, the Gulf crisis and, you know, the Daddy Bush --

KITTO: Daddy Bush.


HAQ: Daddy Bush, yes. [Laughter] So, he -- he just invaded Iraq, and the economy was so bad. It was really hard to find a job here in Am-- in New York and especially an immigrant from other country. I mean, it was really, really tough at that time. They all -- I don't know. They had my interview, and I pleased them, and it wasn't that I couldn't talk to them well but you know?

KITTO: Yeah.

HAQ: But some say like, you know, "You are --" Like you know, "Why you are looking for the job? You -- you can find something much better." I said, "Look, just give me a chance to enter to the bank then I'll find it out after -- after a few months or a year. I'll find it out where I should go," but I just tried to just in. So, it didn't happen and then I -- three months later, I started to work at one of the stores. It's for jeans, clothes, and -- and -- sneaker store. 38:00There for a -- for a little time and then I went to a computer school, one of the school in Atlantic Avenue, I remember, near to just meat district [phonetic] there some point in Atlantic Avenue. I went there and so -- to learn, at that time, Lotus 1-2-3. That was the computer program, like, you know, those program. I almost finished, but at the time, I need a job too. How long I can get money from my relative because they're giving money. I'm not asking because, okay, when I go out, "Okay, here's the money" because they know that I need money, but I say, "You know what, I -- I -- I need to find a job."

Then I was looking for a job on Fulton Street. One of the stores, I went there, and they hired me. And I started to work as a stock boy for a few weeks then the owner or the managing director say, "You know, he -- he shouldn't be a stock 39:00person, you know. Put him some -- somewhere else, in sales or something" because they found me -- I'm totally different. Like, you know, I'm not like that working guy. I can do something better for the company, and that -- that's why they put me in the sales department. So sale -- sales department, I did very good. Within a few months, I became manager, and I started to -- overseeing the two department, juvenile furniture and toys. At that time, Toys "R" Us opened their one branch in Brooklyn downtown next to that company, and so they need to... The-- they -- they wanted to have very good competition, so... And they say, "You know, you should be the manager," and I worked -- I worked really hard there too.

And by the time, I... By the time, you know, my children were born, and -- and I got my license and everything, and I also got my hack license, which is taxi driver's operating license, you know, Yellow Cab. And --


KITTO: Were you living in Kensington at this point?

HAQ: No.

KITTO: You're living in East New York?

HAQ: Yes, East New York, yeah.

KITTO: Okay.

HAQ: And -- and then I... So, one day, I had a problem with my general managers. You know what I found at that time, I didn't understand though. I -- I don't even -- I didn't want even to understand like, you know, what -- what they talk about. Always they talk about something very racial, which is now, I understand. Anybody can talk to me like this anymore. You know what I'm saying?

KITTO: Yeah.

HAQ: It was very racial. He talked about and say, "You're a Muslim --" but he's a Jewish guy honestly, I mean you know, so he's not the Orthodox Jews, right. Now, I have plenty of Orthodox Jewish friends like you know --

KITTO: Just down the street, there are so many of them.

HAQ: So many. And even I -- I built a -- a -- a fantastic relationship. That's why, you know, and they love me because I build the bridges in the area. That I'm -- come later, bridges in the Christian, Jews, and Muslim community, like 41:00they'll be... And my -- my dad did it like Hindu and with Muslims, so... But at that time, I didn't -- I did not want to hear it. They say, "You Muslim? Why don't you speak Arabic?" I said, "Look, Arabic is not my language. Arabic is for Arabian. I -- I -- I'm from Bangladesh, right. My language is Bangla," you know?

KITTO: Yeah.

HAQ: "So, everybody -- you know people, different, different countries, they do have their own language. Well, I speak with the English, which is international language. You can cooperate with me there," you know? So, he... It's not that he never liked me, but he -- he just, you know, --

KITTO: He wouldn't --

HAQ: -- always ta--

KITTO: -- leave you alone.

HAQ: Right. I don't know. I mean, he had -- he had a very bad family life -- he -- with his wife and everything, you know, so... And then always he talked about like, you know, Muslim and Jews, you know. But I was pretty new in this country. I don't understand those things, and even I don't put my attention to understand 42:00what he talked about. But always he talked about like around this. And one day I say, "You know what" -- I don't want to mention his name. Still I know his name. So, I say, "You know what, I don't know why you're talking to me like that. You know, you -- you are the general manager, and I -- I work here." At that time, I think I became the manager here. I said, "Look," and we -- we're like eight, nine managers and one general manager. "So, I give you good work. That's all you need, and we have very good, you know, relation." You know, sometimes, I buy coffee and when I go outside, "Oh, you want a coffee or --" you know, so something like that. It was nice.

But when, "Hey, Haq --" everybody called me Haq. You know, "Haq, come here" and then he started. The general manager hanging around with manager, so nobody gonna say anything. Talked about like Israel, Palestine, like, you know, those. I don't want to hear it because I know this is -- if I talk -- want to talk anything, it's gonna be maybe go -- and this is a Jewish guy, you know, like mad 43:00or go against him then like, you know, confrontation. I don't want to hear those things in my workplace. And -- and I -- I'm not pretty much familiar with like America, the culture and norm because I'm pretty new, you know?

KITTO: Mm-hmm.

HAQ: A few months I'm in America, you know? I don't know even like, you know, well, the whole thing about like, you know, the Black, White, like, you know, Jewish, those things, what happening in the country, which is right now I know, you know? So, I was shocked and then one day I had some sort -- like sort of argument with one of the worker. Actually, probably he put it like, you know, "Don't follow his... Don't take his order, everything." He was just normal and stuff. I ordered, "Bring something here, here, here for," you know, but... And I got really angry like, you know, and they say, "You know what, quit the job." I quit the job because I had my hack license. I said, "I can start taxi -- driving a taxicab from tomorrow. Why I need to listen to this guy here every day?"

KITTO: Yeah.

HAQ: And I quit the job and... But -- but the general mana-- I mean the owner, he 44:00called me. He want to give me more money. He said, "If you don't like to work..." I didn't say like I had a problem with the general manager. I say, "You know what, I don't like it. I don't like to work." And he say, "If you don't like over here, you can do go to my Patterson branches, you know, New Jersey or Jamaica or other. Or across the street, I have another big one, and you can work there, but I don't want to lose you. I can lose five people from the floor, but I cannot bear losing you." I mean -- there's some -- like, you know, I -- I'm a very hard working man, so... And then I ended up with the taxicab driving.

KITTO: So, you said no?

HAQ: Right, I said no. I said, "You know what --" I said, "No, no because I think that this is --" Sometimes like, you know, in my character, I think -- I don't know if this is good or bad, if I some -- if I decide something that I'm not gonna do it, I'll just stick on that, you know? So, sometimes maybe bad, sometimes you know, but I -- I know, and a lot of times, I -- I lose. I just -- I found it then it was the wrong decision. I'm not perfect, and -- and 45:00obviously, like people, everybody are not perfect for everything. You know, you -- you do mistake all the time, yeah.

But I wanna say -- say, "I told you no. Why I'm gonna stay, and [inaudible]. You know, I -- I -- I don't feel comfortable in that." So even he called me and said, "Haq, like, you know, I'm giving like a hundred dollar extra every week, you know, so you work." I said no and... Because I -- by the time I spoke with my friends who are driving taxicab. They say, "You can make more money than, you know, the manager is making from there. Why you are -- you know? Just come drive a taxicab. It's free -- you know, i-- it's a good freedom. You don't have to do anything. You just come to your work, drive, and make money, that's it." So, I ended up to taxicab driving, and that, there for quite long. I -- and then 1995 probably, I moved to --

KITTO: Did you -- did you all have like communi-- did you have like community here? Like did you have friends where you -- you know?

HAQ: Yeah. We did have -- lot -- yeah, friends, and by the time, you know, built 46:00lots of friendship during my work driving a taxicab.

KITTO: Oh, okay.

HAQ: But, yeah, it was a lot of friend came from back home at that time, you know, and from my hometown, town people who are mostly living in Kensington, right, you know?

KITTO: Yeah.

HAQ: So... And we used to know each other from home. And I... So, I moved to Kensington in 1995 when my children are four years old, and I thought, I mean, because I thought for school and everything for communications and -- you know. And at that time, even in '93, '91, '92, the New York City wasn't a safe city. It wasn't safe. Cab driver got murdered, you know robbing, killing, those things happening all the time in street and subways. It was bad honestly. I've seen that. And -- and East New York, honestly, I can tell you that we didn't feel comfortable to sending kids and who's gonna take. Like, you know, it wasn't a 47:00very safe area though at that time, you know?

KITTO: Yeah.

HAQ: So then we... And mostly -- my brother used to live there, and I said, "No, I need to go near to my brother," you know? And my sister came by the time, and she lived in the Borough Park area with -- with her family. And we decided we are -- come closer then I'm not -- moved to Borough Park, which is the border of Kensington and -- and Borough Park, just -- just in the middle of the street. Like this side is Kensington. Other side is Borough Park. So, my house was in Borough Park but my -- all activities and school and everything in Kensington. So, I lived there for 15 years, and -- and -- you know. You know, at the park, I think you went there, the Dome Playground, which is also I -- I helped a lot to rebuild and just the park, and my hou-- and my house was there, so...

And then I send my kids to P.S. 230, which is Albemarle Road, I think 1 Albemarle Road. And -- and it was also good for cab driving. But East New York 48:00when I was -- when -- when I was there, East New York, it was really hard to find a partner. So, Bangladeshi people work with Bangladeshis, like Pakistani people work with Pakistani, their partner. You know what I'm saying?

KITTO: Mm-hmm.

HAQ: One -- one driver did work and day and night, so and my --

KITTO: Mm-hmm. You shared the cab.

HAQ: Shared the cab because you cannot drive 24 hours.

KITTO: Right.

HAQ: So, I had my own cab, and my partner used to live in Kensington, so it was too hard for me to change the shift. I cha-- I took the car, but came... I -- I used to come to Manhattan by train and take the car from Hudson Street in Manhattan and then he took... He is -- you know, he used to take the train to go home, and the nighttime, I need to go to Kensington, park the car near to his house and then hire a taxicab to go to East New York. Or sometimes, I have to bring my private car and park there and take the train after it to come here, so 49:00it was a big hassle. And I -- in all respect, I said, you know, "Move to Kensington."

But my father-in-law's family used to lived there, but later, they also moved here. And I... And it was much easier. Like my partner is close. I don't have to worry. I park the car and walk like within a couple of blocks or -- or maybe in the same block, I found to park, and I went home. So, it was comfortable. Then I worked, I mean, continuously. I never looked for anything, but my wife always say that --

KITTO: What was your wife doing?

HAQ: Oh, at that time, my wife? No. I mean, she didn't. She -- [clears throat] I'm sorry. She started to work and then we found like, you know, she is pregnant and then found she's having two babies, twin and then I decided. I said, "You know what, you don't have to work." So, she quit her job and then she gave 50:00birth. I said, "This is a full-time job, you know, and we didn't have anyone at that time who can help. Like, you know, when you have a child and grandparents or parents, relatives that are helping, but we didn't have anyone. And it was really hard for her, and I'm so thankful that she had done all those work for our children. I -- I always work, work, you know, and then she took care of two kids. It's not that easy, you know, raising two children at a time, and as a young woman, and she did that, you know. I'm so grateful to her and -- and she -- she put more time than me for my children, and so...

And I said that, "You know what, you don't have to work. This is your full-time job raising children. Why you need to work? What are you gonna do? You're gonna put the kids to a babysitter, and the money you'll earn, you'll give it to the babysitter? The children are not gonna get you or your affection, your love, you know, so you don't need to. Stay with the children," so -- and then we decided. She never worked until children went to high -- you know, I think middle school 51:00or high school at some point. But when -- I think when -- once they went to middle school and then she started to work part-time on the Saturday and Sunday. And then...

KITTO: So, what were some of the experiences that you had driving the cab that led you to want to start the union?

HAQ: Oh, okay, yes. When I start driving a taxicab, at that time, there was all the rules they give the taxi drivers, all the rules. I mean, the rule made by the city and TLC, Taxi & Limousine Commission, and also the garages and the brokers. They exploit the people's labor. And they are making less, paying more money, and nothing, no heath benefit, no retirement benefit, nothing. Still they don't have that, but no re-- even no respect. No respect. People go to the garage, line up. The dispatcher misbehave with the drivers, looks like they're 52:00just, you know, a bunch of, you know, immigrants, idiot, like, you know, who came over here for a job. They're paying money and get -- get -- getting their car and work. Sometimes, the car is dirty or something, a bad car. They can't -- they don't have any mouth. They can't talk anything. Or, you know, "If you want to work, work. If you don't, go, go home." That's the way they behave with the drivers, the garage and brokers then, so...

And then I found those people have no dignity. I mean, just looks like a slave and -- and then first, we started to work organize. I started organizing Desi -- the, like, Bangladeshi organization. We used to u-- we used to use a -- a -- a, what, a CB radio. I mean, two-way tra-- talking radio. So, all the drivers have that. It was -- it was... It -- it -- at that time, it helped the driver a lot honestly. I mean all the traffic information. Now, you can see in the GPS, but that time, well, I mean drivers all over in the city, they're telling, "Oh, 53:00don't come this -- don't take this road, bad traffic." Or, "Here is like TLC sitting here holding the drivers, giving ticket." The drivers always avoid that area. Or taking a passenger, like, who looks suspicious, like, you know, and going to some places that's far, you know. Feel bad because -- you know, oh, we know like the driver went there. Somebody got -- somebody's tire punctured, we help them.

That -- that's the way we organized was to the radio and then built a name, organization, and that two organizations, actually, I built at that time. I was the co-founder also of both -- both organizations. That's called Bangladeshi Yellow Society and then Bengal Cabbie Society of New York. So, there is -- first, Yellow Society was the big -- a big one and then we started to fight with the power and then just divide to two groups. So, I went with Bengal Cabbie 54:00Society, the another one.

And later, I met with Bhairavi Desai, I think, who is the executive director of New York Taxi Workers Alliance, and she met me -- where is it? -- Lexington here on 28th Street and then we -- or 26th Street, 28th Street. I'm sorry, yeah, 26th Street and then we talked about like some sort of union or something and then we... She took me to one of the organizations which she was -- belongs to with other people. I went there, and later, we found like it's not worthy and then we co-found -- we founded, you know, and I was one of the co-founder of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. The union, our motto was the right, respect, and dignity and -- and, you know, the safe place, work -- a safe working place, yeah, workplace, safe workplace, yeah. So, those are the motto and then we 55:00started to organize the drivers. So, that's the way we built the New York Taxi Workers Alliance.

And now, the Taxi Workers Alliance have -- is a big organization, not only in New York City. You know, it's the biggest organization in the nation, and they are -- they're now the dealmakers. I mean if anything like, you know, city, mayor, TLC, they need to call Taxi Workers Alliance if they want to take any --

KITTO: That's amazing

HAQ: -- any decision. At that time, none. I had so many meetings with the TLC executive at that time and -- I mean with the Taxi Workers Alliance, the board members. So, the lots of different arguments, "We have to change this, change this." There are so many hearing that I went to, and I spoke.

KITTO: Anything stand out that you wanna tell a story about?

HAQ: Yeah. I mean at that time, look at it, we have changed a -- we -- we did lots of good work. I mean, they used to give a driver two tickets, three tickets 56:00-- for one violation, like two different tickets, a DMV ticket and TLC ticket. So, we said like, "It's a double jeopardy. You cannot punish one person for this -- you know, one person sp -- two times for the same crimes. You can't." I mean, if you -- if -- if the TLC court finds you guilty then the DMV will find you guilty. DMV find you guilty, TLC automatic say, "You're guilty." But for the same crime, you punish from -- twice, you know? So, this is as we -- we called double jeopardy. It shouldn't be. They changed that.

We fought lots of thing. Like the significant one, I don't want to spend that much time on that, but significant one, which is I -- I could say like in 19-- 2005. I think you might have read about it in, you know, in -- in the internet that I had been stabbed by a passenger. I was almost killed. The passenger stabbed me through the partition in my back.

KITTO: Oh, my God.

HAQ: And nowadays, I work in public health. I know how dangerous it was. Like 57:00it's happening just life and death. It could cut my aorta, you know, punched my -- [coughs] I'm sorry -- heart, lung, and spinal cord -- cord. And I --

KITTO: He was trying to kill you?

HAQ: Yeah, trying to kill me. I don't know why. Just nothing, didn't ask for money, nothing, just all of a sudden, you know, stabbed me. It was very early hour in the shift. It was like eight, eight o'clock, 8:30 at some point in Brooklyn Heights right after the Brooklyn -- you know, on -- in front of the Watchtower, which is the Brooklyn Heights, a very high-scale neighborhood. And -- and then...

So, it came out as a big news, and I was like in most of the front page of the newspaper, television. They talked about me like, "He's a nice guy, a good guy. He want to change the working condition of the taxi drivers working really hard for hardworking people. Now, you know, he's facing the serious consequences like 58:00someone trying to kill him." And so, in the pre-- we had a big press conference at Bellevue Hospital and then media asked me, "What do you want? Do you want anything from the city or from the government," like -- you know? So, I said, "I don't want anything for myself. I want something. I want to see the safe workplace for the taxi driver. I don't want to see that my fellows would go through the same -- you know. I mean will face the same problem that I faced." So, they...

And then in the Taxi Workers Alliance, we decided to s-- start to work on that. So then our campaign started for safety for the cab drivers. It took us long -- within a few years later, like four years or three years later. And in Albany, I still remember and -- and the s-- the senator, they introduced the bill Taxi Driver's Protection Act, but it was enormously passed in the House and the 59:00Senate. But governor -- at that time, the governor, Paterson, he didn't sign the bill into a law, you know, and -- and it was dead. I mean the bill dead, and we started to -- you know, again from the beginning. And then the city council, the same -- and the city council, the same -- I still remember he -- he -- he just ran for city council and then when he came to the city council, he introduced the bill in citywide. First, we did it statewide and then citywide -- citywide, and the bill passed.

So now, it -- once -- if you take a -- a green cab or I mean a -- or a Yellow Cab, or any Liberty -- partition cab, you see on the partition that it says with the yellow sticker, "Attention: Assaulting a taxi driver is a punishable crime, prison time up to 25 years," so... And actually, it was -- you can read about, 60:00you know, on -- online, about it started from my hospital bed. So, it is one of the big accomplishment for me for the cab drivers and... So, the Taxi Workers Alliance did that and a recent, which is that we also brought the history. Uber, we -- we -- we just made the city council and -- or the mayor --

KITTO: Cap the --

HAQ: -- to bring the cap of Uber for an extra one year and then let's see what's gonna happen afterwards. And so, they did that. We did lots of demonstrations and --

KITTO: So, you were involved in that too?

HAQ: Yes --

KITTO: Still?

HAQ: -- I was.

KITTO: So, you still work?

HAQ: Still I -- still I sat with the board -- on the board, yeah, so...

KITTO: Right.

HAQ: And -- because I'm also part of the other -- other liberal organization, which is Alliance of South Asian American Labor. I serve as the national -- the national vice president. So, this is one of the big accomplishments for the taxi 61:00drivers that the New York Taxi Workers Alliance have done for taxi driver. And, yeah, I feel so proud that, you know, at that time we thought to build something. And I believe the people's right. I believe...

And now, you know, we are also fo-- we are -- we -- we fought for long, but still like for, you know, driver's health care, which is I always say -- even, like, before I started to work at NYU, I always said like, "In health care is -- is -- it is really important for the taxicab drivers. It's people's right. It's not the privilege. Like it's -- it's a right. You have to have -- you know, give people their health care services," so... And they don't have any benefit. But still, they don't have any benefit or they can't benefit anything, so...

But at least now, the city did a big mistake. I should say, I always complain, even complain the mayor, complain like other council members they did a big 62:00mistake. Four or five years ago when the Uber came, we fought to bring the cap because taxi has the cap. They already capped for a long time, a long time ago. They cannot, you know, bring more cabs. Why there is no regulation for app-based companies?

KITTO: Yeah.

HAQ: They can put 2000 car a month, which is ridiculous and look at this, the traffic --

KITTO: Traffic, yeah.

HAQ: -- and -- and you cannot find any parking in the city or even in the -- in the boroughs. It's too hard finding a parking because almost, you know, over at 100,000 extra car in the city right now, and all this traffic, and everything. Now, they realize. That's why Corey Johnson, the speaker, he said a few times, you know, "I'm -- I'm really sorry. I apologize. It was my mistake also because I opposed it when it came to the city council," you know?

KITTO: Right.

HAQ: But mayor -- then mayor wanted to have the cap, you know?

KITTO: Yeah.

HAQ: So right now, it's -- let' see, you know, what happening. So this is, you know, the accomplishment for the taxi drivers, yeah.


KITTO: So, it's really amazing. I wanted to ask you about your work specifically in the community and in Ken-- in Kensington, the Bangladeshi community and when that started and --

HAQ: Yup. I mean even --

KITTO: And also, were you -- so did you --? Sorry.

HAQ: Mm-hmm. Go ahead.

KITTO: Before you answer that --

HAQ: No. Mm-hmm.

KITTO: -- did you --? Like in terms of practicing your faith, like, what was that -- what was that transition like to come to the States? And did you find like a Muslim community in here?

HAQ: Yeah. I mean when I -- yes, I mean, you know, ba-- back home, like people have to have -- you know, practice their religion all the time because it's a Muslim country, and I think right -- right now, it's the second largest Muslim country as the population is --

KITTO: Oh, I didn't know that.

HAQ: Huh?

KITTO: I didn't know that.

HAQ: Yeah. As the population, not like the size of the country. Size like is a 64:00little bigger than Texas -- a little smaller than Texas, but the population is very --

KITTO: It's big.

HAQ: -- too much population, yeah. And yes, so when we came over here in 1991, we didn't have enough mosque to go to pray, and so... And I was not that religious at that time. I mean not like, you know, five times prayer. I was a young man, like -- you know? And didn't have any mosque nearby, so, and then only one mosque here on 11th Street and First Avenue the mosque and their -- our partner, too, NYU's partner. We work with them with their religious program, yeah. And one mosque was in Brooklyn and not in -- it is in Kensington, yes, which is two blocks from the Coney Island Avenue. [coughs] I'm sorry. So I used to come there for pray whenever I have time and especially the eve prayers like, you know, or the jummah prayer, yeah. So, it was hard at that time to finding mosque.


Right now in Kensington, just within a few blocks, we have one -- I mean besides the Pakistani... In Kensington, there's a lot of mosques, but Bangladeshi mosque, one, two, three, four, five Bangladeshi mosque within -- within four or five blocks. And one big mosque where I go usually, which is my mosque, Bangladesh Muslim Center, 5,000 people can pray at a time, that big mosque, you know, so... And now, I mean it's very easy, and you can see a lot of people go to mosque and after prayer like, you know, hundreds of people. All people like, you know, getting out from the mosque, it's very beautiful, very nice, and it didn't happen overnight. It took times.

KITTO: Tell me about it, yeah.

HAQ: People -- people raised the money, donate money to build the mosque, so that's happened. And I -- I really appreciate them who took this initiative of, 66:00you know, building a mosque and dedicate their times and money, contribute money. And not only -- the money, it didn't happen. Somebody need to work on that how to build the mosque and particularly, you know, working and taking all those initiative to, you know, raise money. So, I should give them a big credit. Obviously, for every work, somebody need to take, you know, a step to do something better. Otherwise, we cannot build a better community.

KITTO: Right.

HAQ: And so, I was in -- I mean I was involved with the Bangladeshi community build -- because of the drivers' community. I work with them at the beginning. At that time, I did not directly work with the community for community things. But I worked like with drivers, at that time, only drivers' thing like, you know, what's happening with the drivers. Like -- and I was on television, newspaper, like, you know, rally, speaking in a big rally like this. Like as the 67:00labor leader, I was all over but not actually involved with the community, but people know me involved. And then -- then I started to work with the community as, you know, attending with the community meetings and some, you know, organizations I used to go and... But I still go there and -- and listen to what they're talking about, what they want to do.

And then I went -- the Council Member Brad Lander who is my council member who was running for the council in 2009, I believe, like 10 years ago. And we knew each other before and then I saw him. He was standing in front of the mosque on Friday. I was working at NYU. On that day somehow, I didn't come to work. Probably, I had a field work, so I went to the mosque for prayer. When I got out from the mosque by the stairs, that Brad was standing there with a flyer. I say, 68:00"Hey, what the hell you're doing here, Brad?" And he say, "Hey Mamnun," you know, and then we talked, "How --" you know, "Hi, how are you?" He said, "I'm running for city council." He gave me a flyer, the Bangla-written flyer. He said, "Yes, the city council. All right, so Mamnun, and then after -- after the primary," and he wasn't the foreign at that time, the foreign line. I didn't know it -- about it. I was -- I didn't have -- you know, pay more attention like, you know, the local election. And then he -- he said, you know, "We'll talk about it after the election. We'll sit down like --" you know?

And then after the election, he won the election, the primary. He win the election and then, you know, November, he win. And then when we sit down, and we had a meeting and then I started to work with him for the community development and community building, you know, so those. So, I helped him a lot. I mean, definitely, he owed me a lot, you know, I could say. Like because from the beginning, I -- even like, you know, that few Bangla he knows, like, you know, I taught him. I mean, it's -- this is -- this is -- always he asked me. We are 69:00good friends. And -- and I gave all the ideas about the community and the culture, norm. He learned and organized a big meeting, and we -- I went there.

And the first time, my whole community leader saw me that I'm doing something bigger than they are doing. It means like, you know, I -- I am doing something with the elected officials and then Brad introduced me there. They know me. Brad said, "I wanna -- you guys know him, but I want but I want to introduce Mamnun and -- and a lot of neighbors, you know, and other communities. And thus, he -- he says that, you know, "He's a labor leader. We knew each other. I'm gonna work closely with him, you know, for -- for the better of your community" and fine, and then we started to work and a few -- like a year later, probably, like I think -- I don't know -- forgotten, like he just...

One day, he called me. He said, "Mamnun, are you interested for -- to be a 70:00member of the community board?" I say, "Yeah, why not?" And I never thought to go to the community board, and he thought like, you know, because co-- council member, he needed their recommendation. He needed to send the recommendation to the borough president. At that time, Marty Markowitz was the -- the borough president, but absolutely, you need the council members' recommendation. Like you know, "I want this person in the community board," because he -- that is a quarter. Like, you know, how many members he can put in the board. And he thought Mamnun will be the best one, you know, so why not? And then I say, "Yeah," and he send -- he said, "I'm gonna email you the form." He emailed me the form. I filled out the form and send it, and a few months later, I got the news that, you know, I'm appointed as a member of the community board. So then, I started to deeply working with the community, and, of course, like, you know less work for the Taxi Workers Alliance, more work for the community and politics and everything.

KITTO: And you have a job.

HAQ: And I have a job, a full-time job here like -- you know? And this job also 71:00put me in the community, right, because this is... We need to work with the community. I mean my job not nine-to-five office here. I do lots of partnership development for the NYU CSAAH, and I work with the community-based organizations and doctors because basically I teach people how to manage their chronic diseases, you know?

KITTO: Mm-hmm.

HAQ: So, bring them to our intervention and I teach them for -- each group like for six months, you know, so... And, you know, in-- involved pretty much with the community and then people found me like, you know, I'm the leader of the community. And the first time ever, the Kensington -- you know, my immediate community, Bangladeshi community found someone doing good work for the community. And I have done lots of good work for the community, that's true, through Brad and -- you know? And I always coach --

KITTO: Since 2009?

HAQ: Since 2000-- yeah, after Brad got elected. But before that, I -- because I 72:00didn't... Before that, I didn't work with any elected officials closely. But I -- I started to work --

KITTO: But you were doing --

HAQ: -- with Brad and -- and he was my -- he is my council member and then, you know, his participatory budgeting, which is the good thing, and I'm involved with that. And he called me first, "Mamnun, participatory budgeting." "What is it?" He said, "I don't know. I don't even know it is very well. So let's go to California and then LA and when we come back, we'll know." So, we went there for a conference for a week. We came back. We understood then I started to server different -- different level of participatory budgeting. I served every -- every level of participatory budgeting process. And I served two years, back-to-back, two years as a member of the citywide steering committee representing Council District 39.

KITTO: Okay.

HAQ: So that I did for two years. But right now, I'm not directly involved, but then during the vote, I got involved for a few weeks bringing people to vote, 73:00you know, so, which is basically -- but I don't have that much time. Now, my daughter work, the other girl Shahana Hanif and other people from the community, they'll work. I -- I don't want to... I don't have that much time to sit in with the meeting and those things like -- you know?

KITTO: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

HAQ: Those levels, already, I finished. Now, their turn to go.

KITTO: Right.

HAQ: But I help to bring voters because the people -- even I call people, "Come to vote," you know? So, this is happening and then, you know, pretty much involved. And I work with Brad to allocate, you know, more money for In-- you know, in the area through participatory budgeting, of course. And I encourage people to vote this project, this project because we -- mostly like in the areas, like street safer -- Kensington, the street corner, you know, like down Ocean Parkway. It was a very dangerous intersection. We asked for money, and we 74:00-- we got that done school -- for school, for two or three school, P.S. 130, P.S. 230, and P.S. 179. We allocated money for SMART Board and computer and refurbished auditorium. We did, you know, Kensington library and the Windsor Terrace Library's roof like solar. I mean those things, we -- everything like and I -- I was pretty involved. And I told my community members, "Vote those projects."

Like the bathroom in Park Slope, like school bathroom was so horrible. I couldn't even believe when I saw the school bathroom in New York City, you know. I said, "Come on. This is not even a third world country. People go -- these kids are not going to that kind of bad bathroom, and here in New York City" and, so... And I encouraged my community vo-- community people that, "Vote on that project." And my community, the good thing of my community, they always -- if 75:00they see anything for education, they always voted. They -- they want to see their children, you know, get good education and everything. They're always so serious about it, you know?

KITTO: Yeah.

HAQ: And so, those things, the good job we had done and the park development, I mean, which is the Dome Park and or Dome Pl-- Playground. And even like once, they decided not to have, what, handball court and basketball court because I know they -- they don't want to redo this for... I say, "Definitely, we don't have any park in the area. I want to see this, you know, playground, a better playground for our kids." And then I argued with the people in the school. I say, "What do you want?" I mean, now, we want to see our kid go for drugs go for, you know, -- for bad things. This, you know, we need a basketball court and playground. Well, what do our children do after school, you know, and when they 76:00remain in school? We need the playground." I said, "My children are going there to play. I want this." And later, they decided and then they allocate money now. You know, we got like the new playground, so...

KITTO: What about the Avenue C --

HAQ: Avenue C Plaza. Oh, the first, there is another good plaza, which is Kensington Plaza. That one was like yesterday, we talked about it. You just, you know, missed --

KITTO: Well, yeah, but the Kensington Plaza --

HAQ: Kensington Plaza was the controversial one.

KITTO: Because it was in response to this anti-Muslim graffiti?

HAQ: No, not entire --

KITTO: Yeah.

HAQ: No, not anti-Muslim. It was -- [clears throat] You know, of course, they're like anti-Muslim. I could say, you know, she -- sh-- I mean the lady was -- who complained against the plaza, we found her a racist definitely. She mentioned in the community board, too, "Those A-- Arab people." That's that the way she say it. So, once you talk about Arab or something like -- that looks like, you know, 77:00you -- you'll sound like a little racist. She couldn't -- she thought those are Muslim people like Arab people. Well, she doesn't have that kind -- kind of sense. Though they are Muslim, not Arab or like -- you know?

KITTO: Yeah, yeah. Like but the idea --

HAQ: And that's what I mean there. Yeah. So, she couldn't define them, too, at least --

KITTO: This is a board member?

HAQ: No, no, she's not a board member. She went to the community board to com-- to complain.

KITTO: Oh, I see. I see.

HAQ: And -- and by the way, I served on the executive committee of the community board. So, there's a community board like, you know, they -- they just voted for five people on -- on that --

KITTO: And this was in response to the Kensington Plaza --

HAQ: Kensington Plaza, which is --

KITTO: -- idea?

HAQ: -- in front --

KITTO: Like the idea, like before?

HAQ: No. Once the Kensington Plaza built.

KITTO: Oh, I see, okay.

HAQ: With -- with the Kensington Stewards, they took this -- the initiative, and I was part of the Kensington Stewards. So, we -- we talked with Brad and then, you know, we say, "This is an empty place. We can make a plaza." So there were four chairs on the plaza. There are four chairs. If you go there in front of Walgreens, in front of Walgreens, right on the corner.


KITTO: Right.

HAQ: So, the lady who lives right on top of the bar, you know, she lived there for years, like over 36 years at some point. She's a White lady, and she complained that her daughter is sick, asthma or some other problem, and people are smoking in the plaza. She wants to remove the benches. But actually, the smoke comes from the bar because she lived just on top of the bar. We-- you cannot smoke in the bar, so people are getting out from the bar and standing in front of the bar and smoking. All the smoke goes up, but the plaza's benches is far from her step door, the doorstep. And then she complained that, you know, remove the benches, but the community board, they decided to remove the benches.

So, Brad and I, you know, totally disagree. We want to have these benches, and I 79:00collected lots of signature from the community like, you know, a few hundred, like 400 at some point and then we fought in the community board. So making sure like right then, like, you know, the chair is there, and the community board chairman Eidel Pearlstein. She said, "Ma'am, I mean it was the wrong information. You fought. It's in every meeting. You came over here. We cannot remove the benches. You say that all the time the bench is just in front of your doorstep, but it is not. It is like more than 15, 20 feet from your doorstep, so... And smoke not coming from the benches. The smoke coming from the -- "

KITTO: The bar.

HAQ: "-- the bar. We went in there for a few times to look at it if people are smoking or not." So that was the controversial one. We had it in the archive. But Avenue C Plaza is not. Avenue C Plaza, actually, it was very... It was just an empty place, broken, the street like triangle, like nothing is there. Only people park during the the Jew-- you know the Jewish school there, that's -- you 80:00know? And they have some program on Friday night, or sometimes they park their car, and other times, Bangladeshi Muslim people, they park their car when they go to the mosque. So, it was -- looks like a parking spot. So, we -- we -- we thought we will be -- we will be able to build a -- a -- an international language monu-- language mo-- the monument, which is international language day monument here in Kensington, which is actually -- originated from Bangladesh. It's a long history. Anyway, so it didn't happen. So, and then --

KITTO: But isn't there a history there where there was someone who wanted to have monuments that were honoring like Bangladeshi martyrs or something?

HAQ: Right.

KITTO: And they wanted to ma--

HAQ: Bangladeshi people who gave their lives for language.

KITTO: Right. For language, yeah.

HAQ: Yeah, that sense of the international language --

KITTO: So then --

HAQ: -- that's the monument.

KITTO: -- so the monument?

HAQ: The monument didn't happen because we -- we put on the ballot for participatory budgeting ballot. So, it didn't pass for like, you know, a hundred 81:00something vote less so that's why it didn't pass. So, it was participatory budgeted. We -- Brad allocated like $150,000 for this. And in -- in -- some -- some like, you know, those things like, you know, for city design, it's a long process. So now, it's hard for me -- for a council member to get -- allocate money to build up, you know, the monument here, so... And then it didn't happen.

So, one day, Brad went to the street fair, the big street fair. So, me and him like just talking about it in the corner, and I said, "Brad, come over here. You see this plaza?" Not plaza, sorry -- "This triangle we talked about for --?" He said, "Mamnunul, we -- we cannot build a monument. You know that." I said, "Yeah, but we can do something else." It was under transit because MTA, MTA used to use this place for -- to put their stuff when they're doing, you 82:00know, construction or something they're doing there.

And then done -- once it's done, this came to DOT, so, but for city something, really hard if it is under empty, but DOT like, i-- it's easy to get something. And then he said, "Yeah, Mamnun, it is now the -- you know, I tell you, it's just... I think yesterday, I heard that just, you know, turned to DOT." I said, "Yes." I said... He said, "I cannot build the plaza." I said, "Yeah." Sorry, "I cannot build the monument," so I said, I didn't want to let it go, "Build a plaza." He said, "Yeah, it's a good idea." And then we talked about it and then he started to work. And the next day just the la-- he found that it is the last day tomorrow, and I have to collect like, you know, as much as possible letter of support. And within a couple of hours, I collected like 14 letter of support, and I send it to, you know, his chief of staff, as the deputy chief of staff. I 83:00say, "This is the le--They're surprised," and that's why she always say -- Katherine she said, "Mamnun, this plaza build because of you. If we cannot get this letter of support on that day, we cannot approach for the plaza, and that's you. Like, you know, within a couple hours, you send, and I was surprised."

I said, "Yeah, I mean I called all the organizations, mosque, while this store like in printing shop. I said, "Come over here." I found their organizations' letterhead in their system, so I said, "Take all this letterhead, put all this letter in there." He put it there and then I called up the president and secretary. "President," I said, "look, read this, and sign it." They just -- they... Some people even said, "You know what, we didn't want to see it, just sign it. You want to do something, you al-- of course, you are doing something good for us." They signed it, even didn't read the paper, what -- what in there. You know, that's the letter of support they gave --

KITTO: Those are all businesses?

HAQ: All the businesses.


KITTO: School? Oh, okay.

HAQ: Organizations, different organizations --

KITTO: Oh, just -- different organizations --

HAQ: -- in the area. Even the business association, they signed it.

KITTO: Oh, I see.

HAQ: Mosque, they signed it. The mosque also, they are the one to have the plaza. And then one, two, three, this happened and then it is approved then worked. Now, there's a plaza, and obviously, like, you know, I'm instrumental of course other than Brad also who said, "Yeah." But his chief of staff and deputy chief of staff said, "Because of you Mamnun. Otherwise, we're not gonna see this plaza." So, yeah, that's -- those are like, you know, community service, community work, you know?

KITTO: Yeah.

HAQ: And which is -- I built a better relationship through my work in the community, which is I built a very good relationship with the Orthodox community.


HAQ: Because I served in the community board where mostly members are Orthodox. The community board 12, which is mostly -- you know?

KITTO: Are there a lot of women in the other, or is it mainly men?

HAQ: No. Mainly -- mainly, the men. There's less women. Like I -- I -- I think 85:00five, six -- five, six or four, five, six women, the rest of the -- of the 50 --

KITTO: All, in the whole board?

HAQ: The whole board is 50 members.

KITTO: Fifty?

HAQ: Fifty, five, zero. Five members like --

KITTO: Or something --

HAQ: -- like four or five women probably.

KITTO: Oh, wow.

HAQ: One, two, three --

KITTO: That's not a lot --

HAQ: -- four, five -- five or six, hardly. Yeah. And -- and also minority, the other people less. Like, you know, five or six people, like, who are non-Jewish. But the rest of the people are, you know, Jewish, mostly Orthodox.

KITTO: It's --? Oh, really?

HAQ: Yeah.

KITTO: And some of the Orthodox wom-- are women?

HAQ: Yes. I think -- I think now, it's two probably.

KITTO: And then the other --

HAQ: Other like Christian, two --

KITTO: Oh, Christian.

HAQ: -- one Muslim --

KITTO: Okay.

HAQ: -- which is from Bengali -- Bang-- Bangladesh, yeah.

KITTO: Okay, mm-hmm.

HAQ: And --


HAQ: -- and... But -- which is they found me like, you know, I'm very open and a broadminded man. They found me like, you know, I am not, "Oh, I'm a Muslim. You are Jewish." Not -- I don't have that mentality. They -- they don't believe that, and that's true. I say, you know, "This is it. Like, you know, we are all 86:00people. We all came over here to help each other." That's the -- what the community board is. You know, we -- we'll talk about the issues. They voted and they put me in the executive committee, and I'm the first member who -- the first person like, you know, who's -- who is even non-Jewish, you know, who served on the executive committee.

So, I build that relationship, and I'm so happy like -- you know. And now, they come to our program. Anything happening in Kensington, they come. When, you know, people put swastika in their, you know, areas, the car, the synagogue, areas like, you know, I went there. I am the, look, only Brown person like, you know, standing there, like supporting them. I said, "No, this is against -- you know, it's not tolerable. It doesn't matter who did it. You know, it's not tolerable like, you know, hurting somebody's religion -- you know what I'm saying -- because this is their belief. You know, we have to believe that this is their belief," you know?

KITTO: Mm-hmm.

HAQ: They'll practice their religion freely and I will do the same thing. And they came also when the city or the graffiti in the area like, you know, against 87:00our -- Islam or Muslim, and they came. Like, you know, a few of the members on the community board areas, other, my -- you know, Jewish friends, they came to support me. And I am happy with that because that relationship that over the years I've built, you know? And that's why they said like, you know, -- I'm -- I'm their friend. They say, "You -- you are a totally different person like, you know, I mean who -- who love people." And well like, you know, we -- we came here at the community board to serve the community. That's what we all do and the same -- and that's like Council Member Brad Lender wrote once. He said like, "Mamnun is very instrumental. He -- he -- they build the bridges between the Jewish, Christian and Muslim in Kensington, Midwood and Borough Park area. And we are really proud of, you know, him abou-- for his work." Because when I went -- when I -- the time I went -- you know, I went to the state of the union. President Obama's, last state -- state of the union I was invited, you know, to 88:00attend that state of the union.

KITTO: Oh, wow.

HAQ: And I was the guest of like Congressman Nadler. So, he's my counc-- congressman too. I mean, you know, it's that I -- I really love this man, I mean, you know, his political view and everything. And so, he -- he -- his office called me like, "So, you are the nominee? I mean, council -- Congressman Nadler wants to take you to the state of the union at -- as his guest." And it was the last state of the union of President Obama.

KITTO: Oh, wow.

HAQ: And I attended there, and I got a very good honor. I mean, this is one of the best honor probably, you know, I got, you know? Yeah, and at that time, Congressman Nadler and -- and Brad wrote about me, like, you know, my work, what I'm doing in Kensington. So, this is still going on. I -- I -- I do... Anything happen, anything like after the Trump election, we had the -- the rally --

KITTO: I was gonna ask, yeah.

HAQ: Yeah. We had a rally and a demonstration for, you know, hate-free 89:00Kensington, so, because... And even like Muslim banning and those, we gathered. We organized. I organized those things with my community members and most of the --

KITTO: On the board.

HAQ: Huh?

KITTO: When you say community members, do you mean people who are --

HAQ: People from the community.

KITTO: Oh, from the community?

HAQ: Yeah, community members.

KITTO: Are they fr-- are they from an organization?

HAQ: No, different, different organizations or like general public who lives in the area.

KITTO: Oh, I see, okay.

HAQ: I know their leadership. I know there is some sort of leadership, and I talk to them and organize in the mosque. You know, they all came and gathered and, you know, even -- even lots of people came who are not my immediate community, who are not immediate community members, not Bangladeshis, non-Bangladeshis. They came to support us. So, we build that kind of relationship, you know?

KITTO: Yeah.

HAQ: So -- and, they came and -- and also if you remember like, you know, a year ago one imam and -- and his aide got killed in East New York, you know, when 90:00they came out from the mosque and someone shot him, shot them to the head.


HAQ: Yeah?

KITTO: Yeah.

HAQ: So, I organized with the -- the religious leaders, the big rally, and a lot of elected officials.

KITTO: In East New York?

HAQ: -- who came. No, in -- in -- in Kensington.

KITTO: Oh, in Kensington? Okay.

HAQ: I mean they're showing solidarity like, you know, support. Like, "We want justice for, you know, those family, and we don't want to see any more things like hate." This is obviously hate, and so, those things, you know, we have done in the community. So I'm still busy and working, you know?

KITTO: Of co--

HAQ: Any time, any -- anything people need, I'm there like -- you know, so... And I also work closely with the precinct, the local precinct.

KITTO: Oh, okay.

HAQ: -- six, six. I am their partner, their community partner.


HAQ: So, anything in the community, like policing, like community policing, I help, like, you know, the police in the community. So, if anything -- 91:00wrongdoing, anything happen in the community or someone got arrested wrongly, I go to the precinct and, like, you know, make sure like this person is not the person that, you know, is supposed to go to jail.

KITTO: And how did you end up doing this work? How did you go from being a cab driver to --

HAQ: Oh, that's the transition?

KITTO: Yeah.

HAQ: Like that's --

KITTO: That transition, yeah.

HAQ: I mean, it is surprising of course. This looks like a U-turn in my life, you know?

KITTO: Yeah.

HAQ: A lot of my friends like, you know, who are -- says like, "You made a big U-turn in your life." Driving a taxicab, and I never thought I wanna -- I will be -- work in any official environment. I never thought that. Once I'm driving a taxicab, I thought I'm a taxicab driver, like, you know, probably, I'll be a labor leader and talk like, you know, or helping people. I ended up like this.

So, after... But my wife, always asking me to go to college, but I've never been and then one day, I de-- decided. I said, "You know what, I will go to college." 92:00I was standing in -- in front of Borough College here in 23rd Street. I parked my car and walking, you know. I got tired, and I parked my car and walking, and I saw ki-- students are getting out and in, you know. I feel -- I said, "You know, all my life, I spend here for nothing." You know, I... And then I -- it was kind of a big frustration. I thought, "If I don't come to this country, by that time, I should be a big guy in Bangladesh," like, you know, supposed to be. In -- in my age right now, I'm supposed to be the senior vice president or DMD of the -- of -- of -- of a bank, like a whole country, one bank. Like, I -- by the time, I should ret-- I -- I should prepare for retirement in like another few years and then... But by that time I should be a senior vice president, at least, you know? So, the senior vice president means you do have a very luxurious life, a driver, car, house. You don't have to worry about money.

And I was thinking about it, you know, and now, I'm driving a taxicab. I have to count like every penny like -- you know. This is life. It was -- yeah, it's what 93:00I did in my life. I was so frustrated and walking in Borough College. I say, you know -- I said, "I wanna go back to college." It was in 2002, I believe, you know, 2002. Then I went to Borough College, inside the college. I went there. I don't know what I'm gonna do, who do I go. I said, "You know what, I'll go to the dean and ask the dean. It was -- came to my mind.

And then I went there. I asked the guy. He said, "Go upstairs here and there," and the guy was so nice. He -- he heard like someone came to see dean, you know? [laughter] He just came. He took me inside. He said, "What happened?" I said, I wanna go back to college, and so I just wanted to talk to you." He just looked at my face. He said, "Come with me," and he asked me everything. He said -- he said, "What do you do now?" I said, "I'm driving a taxi." "I parked my car downstairs," I said, you know? [Laughter] He said, "Oh." He said, "You know so when did you finish your education?" I said, "It's a long time in the '80s, you know," I said. And then he said, "Wow, it's a long break of study." I said, 94:00"Yeah, I know, but..." "So, why didn't you go back?" I said, "I never thought, and I thought it right now when I was turning in front of your college." And he s-- he -- he say, you know, "This is -- it's very inspiring. Like, you know, that's good." And he said, "You know what, I'll suggest to you? Okay. Do this, this, this." Gave me the, you know, process.

Then I have asked to my university, Chittagong University, send all those papers to CUNY, the center from 42nd Street, that CUNY headquarter. And then they called me one day, and I went there, and they said, "We got all of your script and everything and you can, you know, start your education." And then -- but the dean told me, "Okay, once you got that, I will suggest to you, do not apply for Borough right now." He say, " You can apply. Your -- your result, you can apply, but you know, break of study, you need small classes, so go to Kingsborough 95:00Community College." Because I was interested for business, you know. Business, I thought like, you know, finance -- you know, finance actually. Finance, my mind is like, you know, "I wanna go back to banking like, you know, with the finance. I wanna work in the finance area. And then he -- he said it, and I followed exactly what he said. I followed that.

I applied to Bro-- Kingsborough Community College. I gave the test, you know then fine, everything done. I started -- took cl-- you know, going to college in 2003 probably.

So by the time 2005, I almost finished. I was a full-time taxicab. It was a hard life. I was a full-time taxicab driver, full-time family man, and full-time college student. If I don't go full time, I'm not getting my, you know -- what is it? You know, the money for, you know --

KITTO: The scholarship?

HAQ: The scholarship, yes, the scholarship. And then I have to go full time. Otherwise, I have to pay for per -- for -- you know, for per semester I have to 96:00pay money and then that's why I have to go full time. So, two days, I don't -- I used to do like two days, no driving. All day in college, morning to night, finish all the classes, two days, a whole week finished. That's the way. And five days I worked like crazy to make, you know, my living. And I almost finished like, you know, but unfortunately, my incident happened, you know. So at that time, I was in college, you know?

KITTO: Oh, okay.

HAQ: So... And -- and after that, I didn't decide anything. I went -- you know, posttraumatic problem, which is so sad. I mean, I -- I felt like I -- I... I felt like, you know, I'm -- I'm having some sort of problem like, you know, anger, sleeping problem, like -- you know. And I talked to my doctor, and the doctor said like, "This is your posttraumatic problem," and all that. I'm thinking about the six months, I didn't drive. When I came back to taxi -- driving a taxicab, this looks like a big fear. Each and every passenger, I feel 97:00like, you know, dangerous like -- you know? And I feel -- what -- I got scared like, you know, if anyone talk a little loud or something in the cab.

But I was a very conversational. Like, you know, I always talk to a passenger. They love me always. The, you know, political, economy, I mean I talk different, different thing, la-- labor union, those things. I -- I'm -- well, they found all these, any passenger, "Oh, man, you -- why?" A lot of passenger told me, "Why are you driving a taxicab? You shouldn't be here, man. You should do something else." You know that's the way people talked to me. And that person after my incident, I feel like -- you know, I felt each and every one like, you know, a criminal sitting in the back seat. And I said, "No, it's not gonna be happening like that," you know?

KITTO: Mm-hmm.

HAQ: You know? And the later, like you know, I gradually overcome those problem, and thank God, I didn't, you know, got seriously sick. But I couldn't finish my college. I didn't feel like go back again. And actually -- and after that, I 98:00decided I'm not gonna be driving a taxicab. I started to -- looking for a job and then, you know, I found this opening, and they found me like you know, "You are the person that we are looking for." And one, two, three they hired me, but also, I'll give credit to my wife for that because she pursued Bhairavi Desai. I mean the -- who is the executive director of the Taxi Workers Alliance, I mean my best friend. I always listen to her, even anything she says, even she -- she never lie I know, but even if she lie or anything, I believe this is the --

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Interview Description

Oral History Interview with Mamnunul Haq

Mamnunul Haq was born in 1962 in Sandwip, Bangladesh. He married his wife in 1988 and immigrated to the United States in 1991. He began driving a yellow medallion taxi in New York City in 1995 and was a strong advocate for taxi workers' rights, including co-founding the Bangladesh Yellow Society New York, the Bengal Cabbie Society, and the New York Taxi Driver's Alliance in in the mid-1990s. He retired from driving his taxi after a violent attack from a passenger left him hospitalized in 2005, and went on to become involved in health education and community organization in the Kensington neighborhood of Brooklyn, including supporting the local Avenue C Plaza and serving on a community board.

In this interview, Mamnunul Haq discusses growing up in Sandwip, Bangladesh; his father's position in the local community; his political activism in Bangladesh; his marriage to his wife; and his immigration to the United States. He expands on his experiences driving a yellow medallion taxi in New York City, including his work to advocate for taxi drivers' rights and safety; co-founding the Bangladesh Yellow Society New York, the Bengal Cabbie Society, and the New York Taxi Driver's Alliance; and being seriously injured by a passenger. He also speaks at length about his memories of the East New York and Kensington neighborhoods of Brooklyn, especially regarding community organization in Kensington; serving on a community board; and his friendship with New York City council member Brad Lander. Interview conducted by Svetlana Kitto.

This collection includes oral histories conducted and arranged by Brooklyn Historical Society in 2018. The interviews reflect varying approaches to religious observance among Muslim Brooklynites in relation to a wide range of communities and traditions within Islam, including Sunni, Shi'i, Sufi, Nation of Islam, W. D. Mohammed community, Five Percent, Dar ul Islam, and Ansaarullah. Collectively, there is particular focus on cultural and religious customs, practices, and gender roles within these communities; education and the arts; immigration from South Asia and the Middle East; the Nation of Islam; Islamophobia in the wake of the 1993 and 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center as well as after the 2016 presidential election; political activism and engagement; and community relations with law enforcement and government officials.


Haq, Mamnunul, Oral history interview conducted by Svetlana Kitto, September 06, 2018, Muslims in Brooklyn oral histories, 2018.006.33; Brooklyn Historical Society.


  • Bangladesh Yellow Society New York (New York, N.Y.)
  • Bengal Cabbie Society (New York, N.Y.)
  • Haq, Mamnunul
  • Lander, Brad
  • New York (N.Y.). Taxi and Limousine Commission
  • New York Taxi Workers Alliance (Queens, New York, N.Y.)


  • Bangladeshis
  • Community organization
  • Education
  • Immigrants
  • Labor policy
  • Labor unions
  • Muslim families
  • Political activists
  • Religious pluralism
  • Ridesharing
  • Taxicab drivers
  • Taxicab industry
  • Victims of violent crimes


  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • East New York (New York, N.Y.)
  • Kensington (New York, N.Y.)
  • Sandwip Island (Bangladesh)


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Muslims in Brooklyn oral histories