Punjab-upon-California

SONY DSC

Hello, readers. It has been many months since last we spoke, so I wanted to update you all on where I am these days. I am in California on a gap year and am taking full advantage of the chance to move freely about my home state, which is home to one of the largest contingents of Sikhs in North America. The pictured billboard is southbound Highway 99 about 45 minutes past Fresno. The text in Punjabi reads, “Trucking insurance, good sir!” (Bhai ji translates more accurately to “bro” or “man,” but “good sir” seemed more appropriate to me.) I took this photo while en route to Los Angeles two days ago, and there was no such billboard on that route when last I went to LA in 2010. Highway 99 today has a fair share of Sidhus, Gills, Khalsas, and Manns painted on its freight trucks, and this sign is testament to their integration in the industry.

As I did in Toronto, I will use this blog to paint a picture of Punjab in California, from the annual Sikh Festival in Yuba City, to roadside signs like the above, to Punjab as it appears on television (e.g. Alpha ETC Punjab, TV84, and Jus Broadcasting). This is an older community than that of Toronto, and it does not pledge the same allegiance to the Indian tricolor that Canadian Punjabi does. Californian Punjab is elders who have renounced India to make America their home and youth who know little of their grandparents’ culture beyond bhangra and graphic tees of lions and warriors.

Since last we spoke, I studied abroad in India, graduated from Northwestern with honors (“Rappa Dappa Dappa,” as my mom calls it), and held a job in New Delhi. Parminder Singh, much to his eventual relief, did not get the Liberal Party nod for Member of Parliament in Brampton, and he and his wife welcomed their second child into the family earlier in the year. My grandfather, the great writer Mohinder Singh Ghag, just returned from Punjab on his first visit to India in over 30 years, where literary figures honored him for his contributions to Punjabi literature.

I return to this blog to do my small part to give voice to the Punjabi-Sikh experience in America, as we are a people too often conflated with the radical Islamist terrorist. In this time of renewed Islamophobia, it is crucial to celebrate every facet of America’s tapestry, regardless of race, religion, gender, creed, politics, or sports team.