1984-2000: Growth and Political Upheaval


Johl and Grewal Families from Yuba City On Holiday in  Lake Tahoe, CA, Circa 1980s. Courtesy of the Punjabi American Heritage Society.


Overall, the Punjabi American community continued to grow and prosper during this period.  Families sponsored relatives from India and elsewhere in the diaspora to join them in the Yuba City area.  The Sikhs in Yuba City did experience some backlash to the growing Punjabi presence, however.  Margaret Gibson’s study in the Yuba City Unified School District showed ample evidence of bullying experienced by Sikh students.  Sikh Americans were also on the front lines of heated debates regarding the expression of religious freedom as guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.  In what was known as the “kirpan controversy,” four Sikh boys were suspended from a California school for wearing a small ceremonial dagger (or kirpan), which is prescribed as one of the five articles of faith in Sikhism signifying one’s responsibility to help defend those who are weaker and in danger.  To date, no Sikh child has inflicted harm on another student in California with the ceremonial kirpan.  This issue was significant in testing the future of cultural and religious pluralism in the United States, and the ability of Americans of different backgrounds to accept aspects of religious identity that cause them some discomfort.  Sikh Americans have acted effectively to include information about the Sikh religion and history of Punjabi Americans in the recent California’s revisions of the history standards.

The 1980s led to increased numbers of Sikh immigrants leaving the political turmoil in India for the United States and other countries. Many sought refuge in the US according to the Refugee Act of 1980 that strengthened immigration pathways for refugees.


Gibson, Margaret A.  Accommodation without Assimilation: Sikh Immigrants in an American High School (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988).

Lal, Vinay.  “Sikh Kirpans in California Schools” Amerasia 22:1 (1996): 57-89.

Mahmood, Cynthia and Stacy Brady. The Gurus Gift: An Ethnography Exploring Gender Equality with North American Sikh Women (Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company, 2000).

Prashad, Vijay. The Karma of Brown Folk (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2000).