Rasham Sandhu, Yuba City high school, 1963.
Rasham Kaur Sandhu (born on August 15, 1943) was among the first generation of Punjabi women to arrive in Yuba City after World War II. She grew up in the village of Dhanda in the Jalandhar district of Punjab in north India. As a child, she fondly remembers visiting her neighbors’ home and listening with great interest to the folk tales and oral histories of Punjab. When her father, Swaran Singh Chima, left Punjab in 1949 seeking economic opportunity in California, she remained in Dhanda with her mother, where she maintained the household and helped raise her two younger brothers.
In the absence of her father, Rasham’s uncle became her advocate and demonstrated extraordinary support for Rasham’s education. She was only one of five young women from her village allowed to receive a formal education, walking several miles to a neighboring village in order to attend class.
Rasham, along with her mother and siblings, joined their father in Yuba City, CA in 1958. Her transition was a difficult one. Although she demonstrated an aptitude in mathematics, she was treated with contempt due to the fact that did not know English. At the age of 15, she was placed in the sixth grade based solely on her English language skills.
“I would not have been able to endure the difficulties I’ve encountered during my life without the support of my family and my faith in the Sikh tradition.”
Rasham’s aptitude for mathematics led her to consider a career as a bookkeeper or an accountant. She received her high school diploma and attended local community college for two years. Along with mathematics, Rasham had a passion for cooking. During a home economics class, she prepared an Indian meal to share with her fellow classmates. She fondly remembers the pride she felt sharing both her food and her culture with her classmates.
But Rasham was unable to pursue a career. Her education and career prospects were cut short when her family arranged her marriage to a young Sikh man in Punjab. After the wedding ceremony, her husband remained in India, awaiting a visa to enter the country while Rasham returned to live with her husband’s family in Fresno, CA. She grew close to her husband’s grandfather, a man who displayed caring and kindness toward her. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for her husband.
During her marriage, Rasham recalls feeling extremely isolated and unable to communicate the remarkably difficult circumstances she endured during her marriage. She sacrificed her own well-being rather than distress her parents by voicing her problems. Her husband died in 1982.
After her husband’s death, Rasham supported her family as a single mother, working as a supervisor at the Tri-Valley fruit packing facility in Yuba City. Rasham is currently retired and lives in Yuba City with her youngest daughter. She has three children and six grandchildren, all of whom she is completely devoted to. She still gains great joy from cooking and sharing her culinary talents with her family, friends, and neighbors.
Photos courtesy of Rasham Sandhu.
Source: Interview with Rasham Sandhu by Nicole Ranganath, Yuba City, 2019.
Rasham Sandhu, Yuba City, CA, 1962.
Rasham and her eldest child, Baljit, Fresno, CA, 1968.