Veena, Delhi, c 1960.
Veena Singh (born in 1940) is a retired teacher and homemaker who loves to paint. She is among the first generation of Punjabi American women who arrived in California. She has called Yuba City home since she settled there in 1961.
Veena was born into the cosmopolitan city of Lahore in undivided British India. In the months before India’s partition in 1947, she remembers the palpable sense of fear; she also witnessed violence and fires on the street from her home. “I was still very young, so I could not really realize what was occurring… We couldn’t go outside because of how dangerous it was,” she recalls. When she was just seven years old, she and her family made the perilous journey by train from Lahore to Delhi. Her father and brother disappeared for some time in the chaos, but eventually they were reunited with the family. She saw many caravans of migrants crossing the new border between India and Pakistan; Muslims headed West and Sikhs and Hindus headed East.
Her life experiences differed from the other Punjabi women who settled in Yuba City before 1965. She was raised in an affluent family in a large city. She also completed her bachelor’s degree in India. After earning her teaching credentials in the US, she taught in local schools. In addition, she looked forward to coming to America: “I always wanted to go abroad.. I always wanted to get married to someone who lived in America or England.” When an educated young man named Baldev (Bob) Singh visited from America, she married him shortly afterwards in 1960.
Veena, Delhi, c 1956.
Veena and Baldev (Bob) Singh, Wedding Photo, Chandigarh, August 21, 1960.
Veena (left) with her sister, Agra, India, c 1950.
The following year she joined her husband in America. She came to the US on a student visa to complete a Master’s in Fine Arts at the University of Oregon. However, she was unable to complete her education due to family responsibilities. Eventually she and her husband moved to Yuba City where he worked as a Professor at Yuba College. When she arrived in Yuba City, “it was a shock. It was a hard life.” Even though her husband had warned her in advance, she found it challenging to manage a household without servants.
The most difficult part of her new life was the loneliness and separation from her family. “When you go to your marital home,” she recalls, “that’s when you realize, ‘This is it. You can’t go back anymore. You have to stay here now.’” In her letters to her parents, she would always paint a pleasant picture: “I made it seem like everything was good and that I was happy.” However, the reality was tough at times: “One day I became so lonely… slowly I started adjusting to everything here and I got happier, but it was hard.”
She taught in the Yuba City schools for 30 years. Today she still enjoys painting and spending time with her family, including her two children and two grandsons.
All photos courtesy of the Singh Family.