Pioneering Punjabis Digital Archive

New Archive Provides One-Stop Access to Vital Resources on California’s Punjabi American Community

punjabi brochures

Oct. 10, 2016 — In the late 19th century, men from the Punjab region in north India, known as the Land of Five Rivers, began settling in the Sacramento Valley and other parts of rural California, farming the land that reminded them of home. Despite the many challenges these pioneers faced in a new land, they built a thriving community.

The history and ongoing vibrancy of Yuba City’s Punjabi American community — one of the largest rural South Asian communities outside India — is celebrated with the launch of the Pioneering Punjabis Digital Archive Project by the University of California, Davis. The archive was officially launched at an event Oct. 8 at UC Davis.

The digital archive seeks to share the stories and contributions to California of these pioneering Punjabi Americans and their descendants through more than 700 video interviews, speeches, diaries, articles, and photographs.

“It is important to save and share the rich history of the South Asian pioneers in California,” said Nicole Ranganath, a lecturer in the UC Davis Middle East/South Asia Studies (ME/SA) Program. “It’s a vital part of California history that’s virtually unknown.”

South Asia Without Borders Series

Nile Green, professor of history, UCLA on colonial ports and religious economies of Bombay and Rangoon. Co-sponsored by the Mellon Research Initiative in Reimagining Indian Ocean Worlds. Oct. 14 at noon, Room 126 Voorhies Hall.

Akhil Gupta, professor of anthropology, UCLA. Topic to be determined. Co-sponsored by the Department of Anthropology. Jan. 30 at 4 p.m. Andrews Conference Room, Social Science and Humanities Building.

Photo exhibition on Women and Work in 19th and 20th century Ahmedabad, Gujarat by Indian photographer Pranlal Patel. US-based Gujarati poet Panna Naik featured. Co-sponsored by the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission. January. Sacramento City Hall Gallery. 

Christopher Chapple, professor of religion and yoga, Loyola Marymount will sp0eak on nature, Buddhism and Jainism in South Asia. Feb. 10 at noon, Room 273 Social Sciences and Humanities Building.

Ajantha Subramaniam, professor of anthropology, Harvard University will give a talk on meritocracy and science education in India. Co-sponsored the Department of Anthropology. Feb. 27 at 4 p.m. Andrews Conference Room, Social Sciences and Humanities Building.

Pedro Machado, professor of history, Indiana University will give a talk on the Indian Ocean pearl industry. Co-sponsored by the Mellon Research Initiative in Reimagining Indian Ocean Worlds. April 20, 4 p.m. Room 126 Voorhies Hall.

Inderjit Kaur, music lecturer, UC Berkeley, will speak on Sikh musical traditions and performance. Co-sponsored by the Mellon Research Initiative in Reimagining Indian Ocean Worlds. May 8, 4 p.m. Room 126 Voorhies Hall.

provost and kang

UC Davis interium Provost Kenneth Burtis with Dr. Jasbir Singh Kang, Punjabi American Heritage Society co-founder

Collaboration with Punjabi community

Ranganath created the archive in collaboration with the Punjabi American Heritage Society in Yuba City. The project also builds on the decades of research about the Punjabi pioneers gathered by Ted Sibia, a former UC Davis librarian.

 “It’s a very inspiring story, one that not enough people know about,” said Dr. Jasbir Singh Kang, Punjabi American Heritage Society co-founder. “With a world class institution like UC Davis involved, it definitely takes us to a higher level.”

With its roots as an agricultural university and proximity to Yuba City, UC Davis is the appropriate home for the archive.

“The community has such strong ties to UC Davis, through agricultural innovations from new peach varieties to farming technology,” Ranganath said. “The university has been so integral to their livelihood and so many people from that community have also attended UC Davis.”

UC Davis Giddha performance members

UC Davis Giddha performance members

The archive will be a resource for academic researchers, K-12 educators, and the general public. The Middle East/South Asia Studies program is partnering with the California History-Social Science Project to train K-12 teachers to use the archive in California history courses.

Important leaders in the community highlighted

Among the dozen people featured in the archive are:

  • Didar Singh Bains, the best known member of Yuba City’s Punjabi American community and one of the largest peach growers in the world known as “The Peach King.”
  • Hari Singh Everest, a writer and teacher whose extensive diaries, writings, and video and audio interviews form a core part of the archive.
  • Dr. Jasbir Singh Kang, a passionate community activist whose speeches, media appearances, and writings promote greater cross-cultural understanding and address pressing issues facing the Punjabi American community, especially after 9/11.
  • Dr. Gurdev Khush, a UC Davis adjunct professor in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, known for his pioneering work in rice breeding and winner of the 1996 World Food Prize.

“Punjabis are a vibrant and influential community in California,” said Khush, who will give the keynote address at the archive launch.

“During their 120-year presence here Punjabi Americans have made remarkable contributions to agriculture, technology, engineering, medicine and academic professions,” he said. “The archive is a valuable resource for historians, academicians and the community in general.”

The digital archive will also contribute to connecting the ME/SA program to the region’s various South Asian communities.

"The ME/SA program is excited to showcase this rich archive of the history and dynamism of the Punjabi community in California,’” said Smriti Srinivas, a professor and director of the program. “We hope to engage with other South Asian communities in meaningful ways in the future."

The archive would not have been possible without the generous support provided by the College of Letters & Science, College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences, the University Library’s Digital Scholarship Office led by Carl Stahmer, the Middle East/South Asia Studies Program, and a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

For more information email Nicole Ranganath

— Jeffrey Day, content strategist for the College of Letters and Science.