Preetam Kaur Purewal

Preetam Kaur Purewal (born on December 17, 1929) belongs to the pioneering generation of women who helped create Yuba City’s Punjabi- American community.  Arriving in Yuba City in 1962, “Prito” (as she is known by her family and friends) raised five children as she worked alongside her husband, Udham Singh Purewal, in contributing to the success of the Purewal peach business. For decades, she and her circle of friends also prepared meals for the sangat (congregation) at Yuba City’s Gurdwara on Tierra Buena Road.

 Born in a village in western Punjab, she was raised in a Sikh farming family on land that became a part of Pakistan in 1947.  Her parents, Lashman Singh and Sham Kaur, raised six children: four daughters and two sons. As one of the eldest sisters, Preetam shouldered many responsibilities, such as performing the household chores and taking care of her younger siblings.  For fun, she remembers playing hide-and-seek with her siblings in the veranda of their home.  School was never an option for her. “Nobody sent their daughters to school back then,” she recalls. Using her own lack of education as an example, Preetam Kaur often stressed the importance of education and a good career for all of her children and grandchildren.

Preetam with her two sons, Punjab, c 1960.

Preetam with family. Back row (left to right): Avtar Kaur and Preetam Kaur. Front row: Tarsem Singh, Mohinder Kaur, and Gurmit Kaur, Punjab, April 1961.

When she was just 18 years old, Preetam became one of 12 million people displaced by the partition of India and Pakistan on August 15, 1947.  Sikh families traveled east to cross the new border into the eastern part of the now divided Punjab region.  Preetam and the majority of her family traveled by military truck.  Her father traveled separately, with the family’s belongings and livestock. Left behind was their family dog, Moti. “My dad told us to leave rotis for him to eat,” she recalled tearfully.  Fortunately, her family did not witness any of the violent clashes that occurred during partition.  They eventually started their lives over again in their new home in the village of Birk, in the Phillaur district in Jalandhar, Punjab.

Preetam was married in 1950 to her brother-in-law’s cousin, Udham Singh Purewal.  She recalls how her father had reservations about the union because the groom was more than a decade older than her. However, at that time and place, a father did not refuse a family’s request for his daughter’s hand in marriage, she explained. 

Preetam Kaur waited six long years in India with her two young sons until her husband could establish himself and provide for his family in a new country.  During this time, Preetam’s husband, Udham, and his brother, Bakhtawar Singh Purewal, had formed a partnership growing peaches in Yuba City. 

At last, on April 4, 1962, she arrived in the United States with her two eldest sons, Rashpal (10) and Narinder (8). Adjusting to her new life was made easier by the presence of Harbajhan Kaur Purewal, her sister-in-law, who had arrived in Yuba City before her. Both Purewal families lived together for years and separated only when the two families’ ten children outgrew their home.  Both families remained close, with the cousins raised as siblings.

Each summer, Preetam Kaur worked alongside her husband and family harvesting peaches. Eventually through the Purewals’ hard work, their business thrived.  In 1968, the Purewal families donated three acres of their peach orchard for the construction of the Tierra Buena Gurdwara.  After the Gurdwara opened in December 1970, the local Sikh families could finally gather in prayer in their own community rather than drive three hours to the Stockton Gurdwara. 



For the next four decades, Preetam Kaur, together with her husband and friends, spent most of their time volunteering in the gurdwara kitchen. They frequently prepared langar for the Gurdwara.  Preetam shared deep bonds of friendship and camaraderie with the other women who volunteered, including her good friend, Gurmit Kaur Takher. 

Preetam Kaur enjoyed a reputation as a great cook in her extended family. Her beans and saag were two of her signature dishes. In addition, she was an avid gardener.  Throughout the summer, she hand-picked and cooked with tomatoes, okra, eggplant and other vegetables from her garden. What vegetables she didn’t prepare for her family’s meals right away, she froze for the coming months. Nothing went to waste in her frugal kitchen.  She also shared her extra produce with her family and friends.  

Despite the fact that Preetam Kaur never attended school, she earned her United States citizenship.  Her daughter, Sukhcharnjeet, who was only in grammar school at the time, helped her mother achieve this goal after years of studying.  After obtaining her citizenship, Preetam sponsored the families of her three sisters and two brothers to the US.  Preetam even traveled to India to assist her elderly parents in completing the long journey to America to be reunited with their family.  


Preetam is one of four signatories on the Purewal family land donation for Yuba City’s first Gurdwara, December 16, 1968.

Preetam Kaur and her husband, Udham, raised five children: Rashpal Purewal, Narinder Purewal, Sukhcharnjeet Dhaliwal, Satnaum Purewal, and Sukhjit Purewal.  She is the grandmother to ten grandchildren and six great grandchildren. 

Photos courtesy of the Purewal family.

Source: Interview by Nicole Ranganath with Preetam Kaur Purewal, Yuba City, December 16, 2017, with written input from the Purewal family in consultation with Preetam.