South Asian immigrants today tend to be a more insulated community. Many parents urge their children to marry other "desis," people of the Indian diaspora.
But back then, it was different. The Bengali Muslim men knew they had to do all they could to make it in America.
Echevarria died in 1952 and left her husband to raise the children. Ullah Jr. remembers his sister being sent off to his aunt's house in New Jersey. He did the rest of his growing up with his father in an apartment on East 102nd Street.
His father worked as a cook at the Silver Palms restaurant on Sixth Avenue and 44th Street. He left the house at the crack of dawn for the subway ride. He came home tired, took a nap and then cooked dinner. Rice and curry. Later he and Chowdry opened their own restaurant, The Bengal Garden.
Occasionally they'd head down to the Indian seamen's club in the Lower East Side and after 1947, to the Pakistan League of America, an organization Chowdry and Ullah co-founded.
Ullah Jr. called his father's friends "Chacha," the Bengali Muslim word for uncle. Some of them changed their Bengali names to Charlie and Harry and in the case of Ibrahim -- Abraham.
Ullah Jr. even asked his father once to teach him Bengali. The answer was no.
"He wanted me to be an American boy," Ullah Jr. said, trying to mimic a Bengali accent.
He remembered his father asking a literate friend to pen letters in Bengali to his mother and brother back in Noakhali.
"He would bring them home and I would address them and send them out," he said.
Ullah Jr. grew up playing on the rooftops and hanging out on the streets.
The Puerto Ricans embraced each other, the blacks high-fived. And the Bengalis? They asked: "How was school?"
Ullah Jr. grew up speaking English and Spanish. The Bengali or Bangla side of him diminished but never went away.
"I'm a Banglarican," said Ullah Jr. of his identity. "We assimilated into the neighborhood. I'm immersed in both cultures."
In the late 1960s, his father, then ailing from asthma, returned to Noakhali to remarry. He returned with Moheama, a traditional Bengali woman who was much younger than her husband. Aladdin Ullah is her son.
Ullah Jr. wishes he had accompanied his father on that long trek home. He is 70 now and doesn't think he will ever step foot on his father's homeland.
"I have a whole family I have never met, and will never meet," he said. "Now my father has passed away. His brother is gone. The lines of communication are gone."
Curry on the stove
Chowdry became a key figure in New York. He lobbied Congress to change naturalization laws of the 1940s, connected with African-American Muslim groups in Harlem as well as Jewish and Christian leaders.
At age 32, he married Catherine, a 17-year-old woman who was born in Cuba to Puerto Rican parents, and had two children, Laily and Noor.