From 1917 to 1946, legal immigration from India was barred and the growth of the Punjabi population in the Yuba-Sutter Area dwindled to a trickle. The post 1946 period when Indian nationals got the right of citizenship, 100 immigrants were allowed to come from India and slow growth of Punjabis started again. However, after the passage of 1965 Immigration Act, the Punjabi population in Yuba-Sutter Area started growing steadily and today, Punjabi community population is probably the largest over any other similar city in the United States. Punjabis now comprise over 10% of the total population of about 80,000 in Yuba-Sutter area. Several of them are engaged in agricultural or horticultural activities. In Yuba-Sutter County, Punjabi farmers grow about 95% of the peach crop, 60% of prunes and 20% almonds & walnuts.
Two days preceding the event, the 48 hour non-stop recital of Sikh scriptures (Akhand Path) is started on Friday. After the concluding ceremony (Bhog) on Sunday, the sacred Guru Granth is ceremoniously carried onto a lavishly decorated float. As the main float leaves the Sikh Temple to lead the procession, rain of flower petals comes down from a helicopter hovering above the parade
With the sizeable increase in their population, the community has diversified from the core business of farming into various occupations, businesses and professions. Many Punjabis have become successful entrepreneurs, venturing into trucking, commercial property, and various other businesses and contribute significantly to their local economy. Several acquired university degrees and have gone into various professions — medicine, teaching, banking, engineering, etc. A number of prosperous Punjabis in the city own palatial houses and drive expensive cars. They endured tremendous hardships and worked very hard to realize their American Dream.
Yuba City is literally a mini Punjab in the USA with three Gurudwaras and a temple. “Sat Sri Akal” is the preferred form of greeting; speaking in Punjabi is not considered “foreign” and Punjabi is officially taught in public schools. A radio program in Punjabi is regularly on the air. The Punjabi American Festival (Baisakhi) is organized every year in May by the Punjabi American Heritage Society which was founded by Dr. Jasbir Singh Kang in 1993 to help the younger generation get connected to their roots. The annual event features some internationally acclaimed artists and hundreds of local artists, including students from California schools, colleges and universities, who perform traditional Punjabi dances such as Bhangra, Giddha, Jhumar, and other ethnic dances. The ticketed event attracts over 12,000 people and is aimed at promoting a better understanding of the Punjabi community, its culture, and the many contributions they make to the region. Many business owners rent display booths to put themselves in front of the prospective customers.
Yuba City is well known for its annual Sikh parade which draws a large number of Sikhs from the United States, Canada, India, the United Kingdom and throughout the world. In 1969, the first Gurudwara in Yuba City was started on the 500th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev. Since then, on first Sunday of November, Gur Gadi Divas (Coronation Day) of Guru Granth Sahib (Sacred Sikh Scriptures) is celebrated by organizing a huge parade featuring many floats. The 28th annual parade in November 2007, attracted an estimated 80,000 people. The annual parade provides major economic benefits to the community as all kinds of goods imported from India are sold in the Punjab Bazar, a temporary mini shopping mall. Yuba City looks like a typical city in Punjab on that occasion.
Two days preceding the event, the 48 hour non-stop recital of Sikh scriptures (Akhand Path) is started on Friday. After the concluding ceremony (Bhog) on Sunday, the sacred Guru Granth is ceremoniously carried onto a lavishly decorated float. As the main float leaves the Sikh Temple to lead the procession, rain of flower petals comes down from a helicopter hovering above the parade. A band of dedicated volunteers continuously sweeps the street in front of its path. Many Sikh groups from different parts of the United States put up their own floats which follow the lead float. Many floats have Raagi Jathas (bands of religious singers) singing hymns. All along the route, enthusiastic devotees put up stalls to serve refreshments to the participants. Thousands of participants join the procession, many follow the floats while several thousand stand along the route and watch. The annual parade is a good source of economic benefit to the city. It is also a homecoming weekend for many younger Sikhs who have left Yuba City for other parts of the US.
Langar (free food) is prepared for the participants gathered for this momentous occasion. Feeding of huge number of people is a major undertaking and it is done with the help of volunteers who have the spirit of Seva uppermost in their minds. As many as 200,000 meals are served during the Guru Gadi Divas weekend. There is no parallel to the event in the United States. Didar Singh Bains started the parade tradition in Yuba City.
—To be continued.