The Mexican-Hindu Connection: In a look for Their Roots, Descendants locate a going story of loneliness and Racism

The Mexican-Hindu Connection: In a look for Their Roots, Descendants locate a going story of loneliness and Racism

For the number of years, Sylvia and Yolanda Singh wondered about their history.

Raised in a Catholic house in Santa Ana where they talked Spanish and English, the sisters had been usually expected about their name that is last typical to all or any male people in the Sikh faith from India’s Punjab province.

Yet not until Yolanda had been doing study that is graduate training at Stanford and decided to go with her father as a topic for the ethnographic task did the household history started to unfold, and she discovered the 67-year-old construction worker is really a Mexican-Hindu.

Mexican-Hindu? Even though the combination may appear odd, the tale associated with Singhs of Santa Ana and many thousand individuals like them through the United states Southwest represents an anomaly of America’s pot that is melting. It is also a almost forgotten tale regarding how history and culture made strange bedfellows, joining together two immigrant teams in fairly brief marriages of convenience.

Today, with intermarriage away from their little group, the Mexican-Hindus are growing more indistinct with every generation, quickly reducing them to a footnote of Ca history. But as a result of Karen Leonard, a UC Irvine teacher of anthropology that has written almost a dozen articles about the subject and it is finishing work with a guide, Sylvia and Yolanda will have a thorough family members tree and understand much more about their back ground.

Within the very early many years of this century, based on Leonard, between 2,000 and 6,000 Sikh, Muslim and Hindu agricultural workers were brought in to Ca and Arizona from Northwest Asia. Many Californians referred to any or all of the guys as Hindus--India had been then popularly called Hindustan--despite the known proven mail order french fact that a lot more than 85% of them had been Sikhs.

Most of the Punjabis had been previous soldiers and police that has offered with British colonial forces; they certainly were respected as recruits into the arid Southwest because of their knowledge of irrigation inside their house province, often called “the land of five streams. ”

The immigrants had been, in general, yeomen farmers whom left Punjab either because their loved ones farms had been too small to divide or just away from a feeling of adventure.

Punjabi immigrants that are agricultural to exert effort on major reclamation and irrigation jobs like those within the Imperial Valley assisted make these areas bloom with cotton, asparagus, lettuce and cantaloupe. Hoping to help make their fortunes prior to starting families, they left their spouses and fiancees behind, intending to deliver for them or go back to them in some years.

Quickly, nonetheless, the Sikhs encountered the anti-Asian prejudice that Spencer Olin of UCI’s history department called “California’s unique make of racism, ” so when a result that they had to help make painful compromises to be able to endure in Ca culture.

Then as now, Sikhs were required by their faith to allow their beards develop also to put their uncut locks in a brush and bind it in a turban--garb which brought them ridicule and title calling into the very early many years of the century, particularly the term raghead. Sometimes this prejudice and financial exploitation additionally led to physical physical violence. In 1925, a Sikh known as Pahkar Singh who lived when you look at the Imperial Valley killed two Anglo agents whom, he stated, tried to cheat him out of their lettuce harvest. “There had been plenty of hostility in the 1st decades that are few” said Jane Singh, a study professional in the Center for Southern and Southeast Asia Studies at UC Berkeley, whoever dad originated from Punjab in 1906. “You never ever knew in the event that you went into city if some one would definitely stress you, ” said Singh, who's maybe not linked to Sylvia and Yolanda.

All of the Punjabis threw in the towel their beards and turbans when you look at the 1920s, as did G. Dave Teja’s dad, whom found its way to 1921.

“When he stumbled on the usa, he desired to be an American, ” said Teja, A sutter that is former county lawyer whom prosecuted the Juan Corona murder instance. “Getting rid of the had been among the first marks of staying in this country, ” he said.

Restrictive State Laws

One old Sikh guy, that has taken a motorboat from Asia to Panama, then stepped through Central America to your border that is mexican 1913, whenever appropriate immigration towards the united states of america had been turn off, told Bruce LaBrack associated with the University of this Pacific in Stockton why he cut their locks and discarded his turban. “I would personally perish for my religion, ” he said, “but i did son’t desire to be deported because of it. ”

Sylvia Singh recalled an account her told that is grandmother of the locks and beards of 12 weeping Punjabis, while they ready to cross the edge.

Sikhs quickly graduated from agricultural and railroad jobs to farmers that are small grocers, and also by 1919, Punjabis had been leasing 32,380 acres associated with Imperial Valley. However their upward financial flexibility ended up being slowed by a number of restrictive state laws--aimed mostly at Japanese farmers--in 1913 and 1920, which banned Asian aliens from getting or leasing land.

In 1923, an instance brought with a Sikh U.S. Resident to the U.S. Supreme Court produced a ruling which discovered that, even though Sikhs had been Caucasian, these people were maybe maybe maybe not considered “white individuals” and had been therefore ineligible for citizenship and land ownership.

So as never to lose their land and their livelihood, also to combat loneliness, the Punjabis--mostly within their 30s and 40s--began marrying young Spanish-speaking females whom they came across involved in the areas and towns. A majority of these females had been immigrants that are young Mexico, usually without male family in this country.

A married relationship up to a Punjabi by certainly one of a couple of Latino siblings would often trigger other people, until six or seven ladies in a family members, including a widowed or divorced mom, would offer a extensive household framework. For instance, the Singh siblings’ Mexican grandmother and two great aunts all married Punjabi males. Often 4 or 5 male Punjabi nearest and dearest or company lovers would marry siblings associated with the family that is same.

Sporadically there have been problems.

“Our grandmother had hell whenever she married our grandfather, ” Yolanda Singh stated. “When she sent applications for U.S. Citizenship, the immigration official informed her she had broken regulations by marrying an Indian. ”

Scientists like LaBrack, who may have collaborated with Leonard, considered the Punjabis in addition to Mexicans “the last two teams i might expect you'll try to meld.... They’re about as polar opposites as you could imagine. ” But towards the Spanish-speaking females, the frugal, committed, non-drinking Punjabi guys must-have “looked like a great deal, ” he said, aided by the high, frequently actually imposing guys providing security and financial protection.

Fundamentally, Leonard states, about 500 Punjabis married Spanish-speaking women, many into the 1920s. In the beginning, things went well. Beyond their shared financial requirements and regardless of the obvious social distinctions, Leonard claims, the 2 teams turned into suitable in several methods. Both teams spoke English being a language that is second and also the color of these epidermis ended up being similar, subjecting them towards the exact same types of discrimination. There is an intermingling that is interesting of two cultures in house life.

Sikh husbands, who'd prepared on their own and their buddies as bachelors for quite some time, introduced pickled lemons, spicy chicken and veggie curries, usually eaten with roti, a bread that is tortilla-like the households. Mexican wives contributed use that is extensive of to your diet.

The men established Sikh temples and devices of this Ghadar celebration, a often violent Punjabi organization that opposed colonialism that is british and provided their children Indian names. A number of the males slept on a string bed known as a charpoi, that they moved outside to escape the summertime temperature, while they had in Punjab. There have been circuit-riding Sikh priests whom traveled from community to community from Texas to Northern California, praying with teams too tiny to steadfastly keep up their particular temple.

Yet the wives stayed catholics that are practicing as did all the children, together with training of getting compadres, or godfathers, ended up being used. The Virgin Mary and Jesus shared space with portraits of Sikh founders Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh in their houses, Leonard found, statues of saints.

“They celebrated Cinco de Mayo in Yuba City-Marysville the same manner they celebrated Guru Nanak’s birthday, ” stated LaBrack. “Some times the Mexican females dressed in saris. ”

“The community had been extremely close-knit, ” said Jane Singh, an investigation professional during the Center for Southern and Southeast Asia Studies at UC Berkeley, that is element of a group work that is completing an annotated bibliography associated with Sikh experience with Ca.

Yet in the long run, inherent conflict that is cultural these alleged Mexican-Hindu relationships--especially age disparity of 2 decades or even more between husbands and wives--combined with financial tensions to generate anxiety into the marriages, sometimes leading to domestic physical violence.

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About Susan Bass

Susan Bass is Director of Public Relations for Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida. Big Cat Rescue is one of the largest accredited sanctuaries in the world, dedicated to rescuing and providing a permanent home for big cats, most of whom have been abused and abandoned. For more information about the sanctuary, visit

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