At the back of the langar hall on the Sikh Temple of Yuba City grounds stands a wooden shelf completely filled with Punjabi newspapers. These are the same papers that pile up on the shelf beside my grandfather’s bed, newspapers that have, for years (the weight of “years” only being relative to my age), given gurdwaras and their congregants a direct line of information to the happenings in the homeland: Punjab Times (Chicago-based, founded in 2000), Punjab Mail (based out of Elk Grove, CA, an hour south, founded in 2009), Sade Lok (our people), Ajit, and so on. Then came connectivity through radio, calling cards, Internet, and television: Raza (Chicago/Toronto-based calling card company) in 1995 and Amantel (Hyderabad-based calling card company) in 2002, ZEE TV in India in 1992 and in the US in 1998, ATN Alpha ETC Punjabi (Canada-based Asian Television Network, which licenses media from ZEE TV) in 2001, JusPunjabi (Long Island-based Punjabi TV station) in 2007, Punjabi Radio USA in 2010, and an ever-expanding list of websites and social media-ites on the Internet. The spread of media has enabled Punjabis – as it has done with every major diasporic community – to grow their sense of connectedness to one another, shrinking the distance between home and homeland, community and country. I have experienced this firsthand; WhatsApp and Facebook allow me to easily keep in touch with Punjabi friends and family in Toronto, southern UK, Delhi, and Punjab, while a calling card lets my grandfather contact less tech-minded relatives and friends in the UK and Punjab – though, for him, Facebook has become a preferred means of communicating because of how effortlessly it creates a sense of network.
The segment of the diaspora literate in Punjabi has not outgrown the newspaper, however, as the newspaper remains the first line of information for the elder Punjabi. As the Yuba City Sikh festival approached, the newspapers shifted from Punjab to California, while New Jersey and New York-based television stations aired increasingly more ads of the upcoming festival in Yuba City. The local newspaper, The Appeal-Democrat, recognizing the growing significance of this 36 year-old festival, devoted several front pages to the Sikh festival and parade. The gallery of newspaper clippings below offers a glimpse of the central valley’s Punjabi community, as told through newspapers.
Before the newspaper, the gurdwara was the news hub, whether through congregants calling India and visiting, or through new immigrants reporting on the homeland. With time, access to Punjab in the household and the community has strengthened. Every week, my nanaji rushes to the gurdwara to pick up his copies of each newspaper so that he may track the goings-on in the home country. Punjabi radio provides a steady stream of Sikh religious and folk music to the household, and satellite television (for my grandparents’ house, Hindi programming) feeds them the latest soaps, news reports, cooking shows, and programs recounting the golden ages of Bollywood song, dance, and stardom. Media has filled in the gaps of the minority experience, making it easier to preserve racial identity in the household, especially for the recent immigrant. The difficulty, however, still lies in engaging those born outside the homeland, as they do not have the same stake in the home culture as their parents or grandparents. Yuba City’s annual Sikh festival, when the eyes of global Punjab, regardless of location or generation, converge on northern California is a start.