Pioneer Generation

The heart of this project is the first cohort of women from Punjab who settled in California’s Sacramento Valley after the Second World War. These women revitalized the Punjabi community and contributed hard labor to the family farm businesses at a critical time. They also performed countless hours of seva for the Gurdwara, weddings, and other community events. The presence and contributions of this cohort of Punjabi women pioneers remain largely invisible.

When the first cohort of Punjabi women arrived in Yuba City, they entered spaces mainly inhabited by men from Punjab. The Punjabi community was also hybrid, involving intermarriage with women of diverse cultural backgrounds. The relations between the new women arriving from Punjab and the Punjabi-Mexican American wives of early Punjabi pioneers were somewhat tense due to cultural and language differences. However, this project uncovers the intimate and lifelong female friendships across cultural and religious differences. Reflecting the demographics of Yuba City’s Punjabi community before the 1960s, the majority of women featured in this project are Sikh. Also included are a small number of Punjabi women of the Muslim and Hindu faiths, as well as the Catholic wives of the early Punjabi settlers. The women in this project often formed close friendships with other women from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds. There was a unity in the Punjabi community in the 1950s and 1960s that was lost after large numbers of immigrants from Punjab arrived after the watershed 1965 Immigration Act. As the community grew rapidly in size and complexity, the intimate bonds of friendship and solidarity tying the community together could no longer be sustained. Instead, many new circles of sociality and support were forged among the more recent immigrants.

This is the first public history project that highlights the individual life histories of the first generation of Punjabi women in California, as well as their unique collective experience.

Select a photo to learn about each woman’s life.

Amar Kaur Bains

Surjit Bhatti

Surjit Kaur Dhami

Harpal Kaur Dulai

Manjit Kaur Janda

Jaswant Kaur Johl

Verinder Kaur Kajla

Bakshish Mann

Rasham K Sandhu

Sukhwant Thiara

Surjit Kaur Tumbar