Bakshish Kaur Mann, location unknown, 1950s.
Bakshish Kaur Mann (born on January 10, 1931) was part of the first wave of women who joined Yuba City’s Punjabi American community in the postwar era. Arriving in 1959, she helped pave the way for other Punjabi American women and contributed to the farming business and the local Sikh Gurdwara Sahib.
Growing up in the village of Gal Mazeri in the Jalandhar district of Punjab in British India was not easy. She was the eldest of five children, three of whom passed away in infancy. As a young girl, her mother taught her household skills. She received no formal education, as there was no school for girls in her village. She spent her childhood helping her family with daily chores such as preparing food, sewing clothes, knitting sweaters, weaving cotton blankets, washing laundry by hand, and milking the buffaloes every morning and evening. This hard work prepared her for married life.
In 1948, she was married to Taru Mann when she was 16 years old. She lived with her husband’s extended family in the village of Banga. After living together for three years, her husband emigrated to America. She remained behind living with her husband’s family, continuing with her household duties as daughter-in-law and mother. After 11 years, she joined her husband in January 1959 in the Yuba City area. When she arrived in the US, she did not know any family, nor did she speak or read English. The only person she knew was her husband whom she had not seen for over a decade.
In the early years after arrival, her husband worked long hours as a farmer at Wilbur Ranch. During the busy times of year, her husband was away from home farming in the orchards from dusk to dawn seven days a week. The Punjabi community was very small, and the women lived isolated lives on the farms. Punjabi women sought support from each other. Eventually her husband worked as a foreman on the Wilbur Farm, and Mrs Mann and her friends worked in the orchards. Later, she worked in the peach and prune canneries during the summer to supplement the family income. She was unable to participate in her children’s education as she was not educated herself. Her greatest tragedy was that her youngest son passed away in 1985.
Today Mrs Mann is also the grandmother of six grandchildren. Her faith in Sikhi helped her overcome the many obstacles she faced in life. In her words, “I teach my granddaughters to enjoy life, be independent, and live and work an honest life as I have done… I am living happily with my daughter and her children in Roseville. I go back to Yuba City as often as I can depending on my health.”
Photos courtesy of the Mann family.
Source: Interview with Bakshish Mann by Nicole Ranganath and Davinder Deol, Yuba City, December 17, 2017.