March 30, 2008

ON the Mexican Punjabis, one of a series

This is interesting

Isabel Garcia, 73, was expecting a phone call from Tejinder Singh Sibia (Ted Sibia) when she noticed his obituary in Sacramento Bee on March 9, 2008. “I hated him to go and leave us profoundly shocked.” Daughter of Mr. Memel Singh, a Punjabi Pioneer who came to the US in 1906, Isabel Singh Garcia acknowledged that she was enriched with history because “Ted restored our Mexican Punjabi identity to us and researched on the narrative of the lost race. I am afraid the new generation of Punjabis isn’t interested in us any more.” Mrs. Garcia regretted that Ted didn’t live to see the museum to honor Punjabi pioneers in Sutter County. Sibia was advisor to Punjabi American Heritage Society that according to Dr. Jasbir Singh Kang, is in the fourth of five phases of Museum’s completion.

Tejinder Sibia will be known as one of the stalwarts who modeled core values of Punjabi culture during his most rewarding career in the US.

Here is the link to his work on the Mexican Hindus:

"Once we are gone, we are gone," said Garcia, 56. "Our race will be a dead race."

She referred to a group known as "Mexican-Hindus," something of a misnomer for the children of Mexican women and Sikh, Muslim and Hindu men, mostly from the Punjab area of India. About 500 such marriages took place in the early part of this century in California, the result of romance in a new land and the laws of the time.

The long-ago marriages were celebrated Saturday at the Yuba City Old-Timers dance, begun 17 years to preserve memories of the pairings of Spanish-speaking mothers and mostly Punjabi-speaking fathers.

Only a relative handful of the children, including Garcia, were on hand. The 50 or so Mexican-Hindus now living in the Yuba City area are overshadowed by the 8,000 all-Indian, more recent arrivals.

And despite their Sikh heritage, the men do not wear the traditional turbans and the women do not wear their traditional flowing garments.

When their fathers came to the United States starting about 1906, the men cut their hair even though, for Sikhs, uncut hair under a turban was an important part of their religious upbringing.

Bruce LaBrack, a professor at the University of the Pacific in Stockton who has studied the original immigrants and their descendants, remembers interviewing one Indian man who came to America:

"Well, I came thousands of miles," he quoted the old man saying. "I walked from Panama up to the U.S. border. If I came across wearing a turban and beard I would get arrested. I would die for my faith, but I didn't want to be deported for it."

Yuba City, the Imperial Valley and Fresno were the main agricultural destinations for Sikh farmers. The Sikh, Muslim and Hindu men left to escape poverty and for other reasons.

In India, the first son inherited all family property so other male siblings often left to gain their own land. Also, said LaBrack, the time of immigration was the height of oppressive colonial control by England over India.

But once they got to the United States, they also experienced setbacks. By 1917, the United States would not allow any more immigration, said LaBrack. Even married Punjabi men could not bring their wives to the United States.

Another factor working against the immigrants was that in 1923, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that Indians, although they were Caucasians, could not be citizens because they were not considered white in the popular sense of the word. And, under California law at the time, non- citizens could not own land.

The men married women of Mexican descent, many of whom were American citizens and capable of owning property.

They married in the California Church. Their children were raised Catholic, but the Punjabi men retained their religion.

According to anthropologist Karen Leonard of the University of California, Irvine, children spoke to their mothers in Spanish. Leonard, who is traveling in India, has written that Punjabi fathers did not have the time to teach their children their religion.

The children met prejudice from Anglos and Mexicans, who called them "dirty Hindus." Leonard said the children were called. "Mexican-Hindus" "half and halves," or, like their fathers, "Hindus," an incorrect but common name for all people from India.

Isabel Singh Garcia said that the Mexican-Hindu children had their own little community during her childhood.

"The Mexicans kind of disowned the Mexican women who married Hindus," she said. "Our social life was to a great extent within our own race of people."

The marriage of her parents, Memel Singh and Genobeba Loya, was a good one, she said. Her father and her mother have been dead for more than 30 years, but she clearly remembers them and her Sikh uncles.

Growing up on a peach orchard with her parents and sisters provided a mixing of cultures. They attended Catholic services and had regular visits to the Sikh temple in Stockton.

"The Mexicans and the Hindu were compatible," she said. "They had a lot in common. The Mexicans had tortillas. The Hindus had rotis, a bread that is like a tortilla."

Even today, Rasul's El Ranchero restaurant in Yuba City serves a mixed menu that appeals to both cultures. Owner Ali Rasul, whose father was Muslim and mother from Sonora, Mexico, serves enchiladas along with roti, chicken curry and something called the "Hindu pizza."

"We wanted to make something that appeals to both," said Rasul's wife, Rachel. "It has Mexican ingredients, but we put them on a roti. We call it a Hindu pizza."



Anonymous said...

This made me think of California's Punjabi Mexican Americans. I'm a new part of this generation. I went to India and fell in love with a Punjabi Sikh man. While he is still learning English, I am now fluent (reading, writing, speaking) in Punjabi and am studying gurmat (the teachings of the gurus), Sikhism and shabad kirtan. He is enthusiastic about my Mexican heritage, it's simliarities and differences as I am of his. We're excited to be a part of this very rare mixture. Although our families have been in full-support, we are still fighting the odds with the rest of society!

Francesca Kaur Sahota

Anonymous said...

It is very nice to know that young persons-both Mexicans and Punjabis are keen to preserve and expand historic bonds between the two communities.Francesca,you should realised by now that Sikh religion is open to other religious traditions and cultures;this holds for Punjabis in general,indeed. I know a few other young Punjabis in California who are happily married with Mexicans. I suggest that you should make an effort to get such persons on one platform and revive old tradtions set by pioneer Punjabis,men of great courage and interity.

hindu blog said...

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