PUNJABI AMERICANS, SIKHS AND THEIR DEEP ROOTS IN CALIFORNIA

Didar Singh Bains, who died in 2022 at the age of 84, is part of the California fabric.

It is a substance whose richness, strength and diversity we often do not appreciate.

Bains’ story begins in Punjabi, a state in northern India, where he was born in 1938 and given his first name, which aptly translates as “vision” or “visionary.”

Punjabi is a compound word combining ‘five’ and ‘waters’.

The region was named “Punjabi” because of the five rivers found there.

Bains came to the United States in 1958 with $8 in his pocket.

He worked in the fields and orchards of California, from the Imperial Valley to Sutter County, where he eventually settled.

There he bought 10 hectares of agricultural land in 1962.

Bains eventually became known as “The Peach King,” thanks to a work ethic that often saw him in the orchard at 4:30 a.m. and working until 8:30 p.m.

At one point he was the largest peach grower in the United States and probably the world.

Bains took the three principles of Sikhism – living an honest life, sharing with those in need and thanking God – seriously.

He founded the Yuba City Sikh Festival in 1980, which takes place in early November and attracts more than 100,000 people each year.

Bains did this because he believed it was important to let people know that Sikhs were fellow Americans, law-abiding, and wanted the same things that other Americans wanted for their children.

In 1965, he became the youngest president of the Stockton Gurdwara Temple – the oldest Sikh house of worship in the United States, founded in 1912.

He also helped finance the construction of other Sikh temples, including the one in Yuba City. Bains also founded the World Sikh Organization in 1984 as a community advocacy group.

Consider this a long primer on how we can harbor misconceptions about the nearly 40 million people who call California home.

Punjab is a state in India.

There is no one religion in Punjab or India for that matter

The major religions of India are Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism and Buddhism.

Others include the Bahá’í Faith, Jainism, Judaism and Zoroastrianism, to name a few.

The first immigrants from Punjab arrived in the United States in the late 1800s. And most of them were Sikhs.

During the first “wave,” about 3,000 people from India entered the United States through Angel Island, the West Coast’s northern San Francisco Bay answer to New York’s Ellis Island.

Most initially ended up in the Central Valley, providing manpower to build California’s fledgling agricultural industry.

The 1917 Asian Barred Zone Act slowed immigration to a trickle.

A new quota system replaced that law in 1943.

But it wasn’t until 1965 that immigration reform saw significant growth. By the end of 2021, those arriving from India made up the second-largest group of immigrants to the United States, behind Mexicans and ahead of Chinese and Filipinos.

Unlike the immigrants from India of the late 19th century, most today come under the immigration laws of the United States through family-sponsored pathways.

About four-fifths of adult Indian immigrants have a college education.

That has resulted in Indian immigrant households having a median household income that is more than double that of other immigrants and native-born Americans.

As for Punjabi Americans, they now number nearly 320,000, according to the Census Bureau. Many of them are Sikhs, descendants of those who first settled California nearly 130 years ago.

About half of all Punjabi Americans (156,700) live in California, representing 0.42 percent of the state’s population. New York is a distant second with 30,341 Punjabi Americans.

Most Punjabis in California are in the Central Valley and Bay Area.

Numerically, Yuba City has the highest number of Indians at 11,000, the vast majority of whom are Punjabi Americans.

Punjabi Americans account for 12.9 percent of Sutter County’s population.

That makes it proportionately the most Punjabi-American province in the United States.

Livingston, in Merced County, has 2,798 Indian Americans living within the city limits, or 19.9 percent. Again, most are Punjabi. As such, Livingston is proportionately the most Punjabi-American municipality in the United States.

Concluding on a peachy note, inspired by the success of Didar Singh Bains, there are incorrect assumptions everywhere.

More than a few people believe that Georgia, because it is nicknamed The Peach State, is home to peach growing in the United States.

It’s not even close.

In 2022, Georgia produced 5,500 tons of peaches out of 543,000 tons grown nationally.

California was the No. 1 peach state with 445,000 tons.

Sutter County itself grew by 111,500 tons, more than twenty times the amount of peaches in Georgia.

An immigrant who arrived in the United States with eight dollars in his pocket grew more peaches than The Peach State.

What about American work ethic and ingenuity, rooted in Punjabi and Californian sensibilities?