How a South Asian community flourished in Irving

How a South Asian community flourished in Irving

This story is part of Asian American Bustlean occasional series published during Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

Navin Butt flips through his photo album and sees a photo of his daughter smiling in front of the Irving apartment his family lived in nearly three decades ago.

Behind her daughter is a flower bush that her husband planted. Her red petals are as vivid as her memories of those days, when she and hundreds of people of South Asian descent lived in the Wingren Village Apartments.

Children in the complex just north of Texas State Highway 183 and east of North MacArthur Boulevard referred to neighbors as “uncles” and “aunts.” They considered themselves brothers and sisters and were there for each other in times of need, according to nearly a dozen former residents of the complex. Together, they would build a community that would become part of the foundation of the South Asian American enclave in Irving.

Asian American Bustle is The Dallas Morning News’ community reporting effort examining the development, culture and future of Asian American enclaves in North Texas. For a few months, two reporters, two photographers and an editor spent several days in community gathering spaces to meet the public and hear their stories.

“When it was Ramadan, we rented an apartment and we used to have breakfast and pray together,” he said. The Dallas Morning News. “The kids would play together, you know?”

“Aunt Navin,” as the children called her, jokes that she was the headmistress of Wingren Village.

“I could scold any child if they were doing something wrong and their parents wouldn’t care,” he said.

Natasha Butt shows a photo from her stay at the Wingren Village Apartments in front of a flower bush her father, Mohammed Humayoun Butt, planted in front of her childhood home, Saturday, April 6, 2024, in Irving. (Shafkat Anowar / Staff Photographer)

His family left Pakistan in 1981 and, after living in Chicago, moved to Irving in 1983, when the South Asian community in North Texas was a fraction of what it is today.

More than 31,000 people who identify as Pakistani live in Collin, Dallas, Denton and Tarrant counties, according to 2022 US Census data. The data showed that a high concentration of the population resides in or near Irving.

“We wanted our daughter to be in the United States but to know their culture, their religion and their language,” Navin said of living in Irving. “The roots are always there.”

Navin’s husband, Mohammed Humayoun Butt, said living in Wingren Village was a “precious moment”.

“All the aunts and uncles come out at night: the aunts on one side, the uncles on the other, they sit there and talk and bond,” he said. “That was the main attraction of that place: coming together.”

Not many Pakistani families lived in Irving in the mid-1980s, but word of Wingren Village spread in the mid-1990s, Humayoun said. As the complex began to attract more South Asian families (mostly Pakistanis, but also some of Bangladeshi and Indian descent), some Wingren Village residents opened grocery stores and other services nearby.

He remembered that his best friend, Mir Euque U-Kiu, was like the mayor of Wingren Village.

He, U-Kiu and about a dozen other families who lived in the complex in the mid-1990s wanted a space for local Muslim families to worship. They raised money for rent (at first a house and then a business premises) so that people could have a place for their prayers. They also supported and volunteered at some of the area’s first mosques, including the Barkaat-ul-Quran and the Irving Islamic Center, each of which is a 10-minute drive from Wingren Village.

There was a closeness to the apartment complex that is difficult to replicate, Humayoun said. In addition to those good memories, there are also painful ones, he said.

He and U-Kiu were playing a game of chess, as they usually did, when Humayoun mentioned that “he had a lot of heartburn.” Shortly afterward he would fall ill.

“Something called cancer. We were not aware of that disease at that time,” Humayoun said.

Mohammed Humayoun Butt prays at an Iftar gathering on Saturday, April 6, 2024 at his home in Irving. According to Butt, not many Pakistani families lived in Irving in the mid-1980s, but in the mid-1990s word spread about Wingren Village. As the complex began to attract more South Asian families, mostly Pakistani but also of Bangladeshi and Indian descent, some Wingren Village residents opened grocery stores and other services nearby to meet their cultural needs.(Shafkat Anowar / Staff Photographer)

Surriya U-Kiu left Pakistan in 1987 for the United States with her husband.

She said that her husband, Mir Euque U-Kiu, He wanted a community where South Asian Muslim families like his could find something resembling the home they left in search of better opportunities. He would invite South Asian immigrant families, even those he had recently met, to move to Wingren Village, Surriya said.

Little by little, he watched as more and more families moved into the apartment complex. Her husband seemed to be in her element; he could feel her eagerness to build something bigger than himself.

“After work, all my friends and I used to sit on the stairs and the kids would play outside – cricket and all sorts of things,” he said.

One of her husband’s proudest moments, she recalled, was when he hosted a party to celebrate Eid for the resort’s families. For one night, he and some of the other guys from Wingren Village rented an apartment, played music, and invited families to bring different dishes.

“That was one of the last meetings we had as a happy meeting,” Surriya said.

The day Surriya found out about her husband’s cancer diagnosis was their wedding anniversary, she recalled. The next few months seemed to go by “very quickly,” she said.

She had little chance to process what her future would be, how her three daughters would grow up. When she died in August 1994, she felt as if all of Wingren Village was in mourning, she said. For several days, despite the heat of the Texas summer, families placed white cloths in front of Surriya’s apartment and prayed outside while Surriya and her daughters cried.

“It was a very difficult moment. I was only 32 or 33 at the time,” she said. “To be honest, I was scared. That was very sudden, you know?

His parents wanted him to return to Pakistan; Her father told her to consider his daughters. But she had made a promise to her husband that she was not willing to break. In the presence of her parents and her brother, U-Kiu requested that her three daughters be raised in the United States to have “the best of East and West.”

“No. I have to fight,” she remembers telling herself.

The uncles and aunts of Wingren Village made sure she was not alone in that struggle.

Before U-Kiu died, Surriya had worked in a South Asian grocery store. About a year after her death, she went to community college to pursue a continuing education program and later got a job at American Airlines. The people of Wingren Village helped her with childcare and she earned extra money taking the children from the apartment to school in her van. Contributing to community needs gave him a sense of purpose, Surriya said.

“During that time if I wasn’t in that community, maybe I would have left, you know? But they gave me support,” she said.

Navin Butt (center) and his Wingren Village Apartments family friend, Surriya U-Kiu, interact with children, including U-Kiu and Butt’s grandchildren, on Wednesday, April 24, 2024, at the Irving apartment complex . (Shafkat Anowar / Staff Photographer)

Fazal Mahmood was U-Kiu and Surriya’s upstairs neighbor when he moved into the Wingren Apartments in 1992.

“I have good memories of U-Kiu, my brother. I have good memories. I miss him, he was a very nice guy,” Fazal said. “Surriya is my sister.”

He described U-Kiu as a leader and, as painful as his death was, he inspired others in the apartment complex to continue his vision of a united community, he said. Even after Fazal moved to Mesquite in 1999, he visited Wingren Village every Saturday, she says.

In the early and mid-2000s, many Pakistani-American families living in the complex began moving and purchasing or renting single-family homes as they accumulated wealth.

Navin and Surriya’s families moved from Wingren Village, but still live in Irving. They meet during Ramadan and other family gatherings.

Navin and several other people who lived in Wingren Village, including his daughter Natasha and Surriya’s daughter Aisha, visited the complex in February with News.

Natasha points to a hill she biked down every summer. Aisha talks about her fear of learning to swim in the pool at her apartment. The pay phone that everyone used to make calls abroad is still behind the laundry room.

“Mom, don’t touch that,” Natasha warns as her mother reaches for the receiver.

From the corner of his eye, something catches Navin’s attention.

“Is the rose bush still there?” she says. The leaves have almost withered and the plant is almost unrecognizable, but it is still there; The roots still hold firm.

Natasha Butt with her children looks at the flower bush that her father, Mohammed Humayoun Butt, planted when his family lived at Wingren Village Apartments, Wednesday, April 24, 2024, in Irving. (Shafkat Anowar / Staff Photographer)

Listening to Natasha and Aisha laugh and share memories in front of their old apartment in Wingren Village, Navin feels grateful.

“Alhamdulillah, we are all still connected,” he says.

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