A native of Punjab, India, Guddi Sidhu passed away on October 6, 2019 in her adopted hometown of Fresno, CA. Guddi possessed a larger-than-life personality. Together with Guddi Kaur Ranu and other friends, she created many different institutions that served the local Punjabi community, especially women and children.
In 1971, Guddi married Dr. Gurcharan Sidhu in Punjab. Theirs was a love marriage. At that time, it was exceptionally difficult to marry someone from a different caste community, but they dedicated their lives to each other in spite of their families’ vehement opposition. In 1982, Guddi relocated from Punjab to the United States, joining her husband in Fresno where they raised three children: Rachana, Roopam, and Sukham. Her husband supported Guddi’s work as a trailblazer creating the first local Punjab radio and television programs, Punjabi language programs and women’s organizations.
Guddi Sidhu, Teeyan festival, Fresno, CA, 2016.
Guddi (middle in red), Fresno, CA, 1980s.
Guddi left behind a remarkable legacy. In the Fresno area, she created the first Punjabi radio show on AM 900 and the first Punjabi television show, Awaaz-e-Watan (Voice of the Homeland) which began in 1992. Together with other women, she created the Sikh Women’s Organization of Central California. Inspired by International Women’s Day, the organization hosted annual lunches honoring women whose work benefits the lives of Sikh women. Guddi was an unapologetic feminist who dedicated much of her life to the uplift of women and children of all backgrounds.
The Punjabi theeyan women’s festival that Guddi and her friends started in Fresno’s Kearney Park in 1995 may have been the first in the United States. These traditional festivals during the rainy month of Savan in Punjab are celebrated with great joy and enthusiasm by women in villages, involving folk singing and dancing. The annual theeyan festival in Fresno attracts thousands of women each year. These women’s festivals have become enormously popular wherever Punjabis have settled in North America and around the world.
Guddi Sidhu, Punjabi radio program, 1990s.
When Guddi and her friends arrived in Fresno, there was no Gurdwara (Sikh temple) to serve the community. She and her husband provided critical support for establishing the first local Gurdwara. Guddi was a co-founder and Vice President of the Sikh Institute of Fresno (the first Gurdwara in the Fresno area.) Before the Gurdwara opened, Guddi and other friends taught Punjabi language classes and Gurbani (Sikh religious teachings) to 25-30 students in their homes. In 1988, Guddi co-founded the Fresno Khalsa school that has taught hundreds of young Punjabis over the last thirty years.
Photos courtesy of Dr. Gurcharan Sidhu.
Sources: Interviews with Guddi Sidhu by Nicole Ranganath, Phone, August 23, 2019; and interview with Dr. Gurcharan Sidhu by Nicole Ranganath, Fresno, CA, December 9, 2019.