Monday, May 27, 2019

The History of Punjabi Mexicans in California

It was in early 1980s when I was driving through Yuba City with a couple of friends. It was lunch time and we were looking for a halal restaurant when we spotted Rasul's. At the restaurant we met a man who introduced himself as Mohammad Ali Rasul. He spoke in Mexican accented English but he told us his father came from the Punjab region now in Pakistan and his mother was of Mexican ancestry.  There were 400 such marriages between Punjabi men and Mexican women by 1940, according to Professor Karen Leonard of UC Irvine. Rasul gave us a warm welcome when we told him him we are also originally from Pakistan. He offered us his "Roti Quesadilla" special without charge as a gift. The fusion dish is a variation on Queso Quesadilla made with Indian "nan"(flat bread) topped with traditional rich, melting cheese which originated in Mexico and Texas. I had forgotten all about it until memory was refreshed by a story titled "California’s Lost (and Found) Punjabi-Mexican Cuisine" by Sonia Chopra I read in Eater.com.

Early South Asians:

Currently, there are nearly 5 million people from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and other South Asian nations in the United States. The earliest record of South Asians arriving in California is in the San Francisco Chronicle of April 6, 1899. It carried a story of the arrival of four Sikh men who were allowed to enter the United States in San Francisco, according to UC Davis Digital Archives.

Karen Leonard, a professor of anthropology at the University of California at Irvine and author of "Making Ethnic Choices: California’s Punjabi Mexican Americans", says that there were almost 2,000 Punjabi men living in California in the early 1900s, and approximately one-third of them married (or re-married) after settling in the state. Over 80% of the men were Sikh and most of the rest were Muslim. Almost all of them were from Central Punjab and came to California by ships from the then British Hong Kong via Vancouver in British Columbia in Canada. They had a choice between going to canal colonies of Lyallpur (now Faisalabad, Pakistan) and emigrating to North America. Most moved to canal colonies while the rest chose to go to the United States.

Punjabi Farmers:

While some Punjabis worked on building the transcontinental railroad along with Chinese immigrants, the vast majority of them chose farm work. While Punjabi men lived and worked on the farms with their Mexican spouses in several western states including Arizona and Texas, it was California that reminded them of their home in the Punjab, the land of five rivers. One of them described the similarity in the following words as narrated by Professor Karen Leonard:

"In my story of the Land of Five Rivers was Sacramento Valley. The river Sutlej was Feather River. The rest of the four rivers--American, Bear, Yuba, and Sacramento. My Bhaskhra (Dam), the Oroville Dam. Mu Govind Sagar, the Oroville Lake. The city of Anandpur Sahib, the nearby town of Paradise. The Shivaliks, the Sierra Foothills. There was Naina Devi, our Mount Shasta. And yes, the Ja- walamukhi, the Lassen Volcanic Park. Obviously, I was carried away by my imagination. Yet, the reality was not far behind. The water, like the water in the Punjab, had the same urge to run downward. The distant hills had the same charm. The fire in Ja- walamukhi and in the Lassen Volcano has the same way to burn."

Asians in America. Source: National Geographic

United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind:

South Asians, like their fellow Asians among the Chinese and the Japanese, faced widespread discrimination in the United States culminating in the Immigration Act of 1917. It was the second act, also known as the Literacy Act or the Asiatic Barred Zone Act after the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, aimed squarely at restricting immigration. An even stricter version of the US immigration law was passed in 1924 which was praised by Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf, according to Daniel Okrent, author of The Guarded Gate: Bigotry, Eugenics and the Law That Kept Two Generations of Jews, Italians and Other European Immigrants Out of America.

Bhagat Singh Thind, a US Army veteran and a naturalized US citizen, was stripped of his citizenship under the Immigration Act of 1917. He sued to get his status restored. In a landmark case United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind,  Thind argued that as a descendent of Indian Aryans he was racially "white".  The US Supreme Court unanimously rejected Thind's argument and ruled that he was not white "in accordance with the understanding of the common man".

Thind ruling was followed by a tragedy when Vaishno Das Bagai from Peshawar committed suicide in 1928 after being denaturalized as a US citizen in Los Angeles.

Post-1965 Immigration:

The population of South Asians in America remained very low due to severe immigration restrictions from non-European countries until the US Immigration Act of 1965, also known as the Hart-Celler Act. This act opened up immigration from Asia, Africa and Latin America and significantly changed the US demographics in the last half century.

Most of the nearly 5 million South Asians in the United States today owe their presence in this country to the passage of this 1965 law passed by Democrats.  A large number of South Asians are engineers and technologists and many live in Silicon Valley. Over 500,000 Pakistani immigrants and their children live in the United States as of 2013, according to a report compiled by Migration Policy Institute. Of these, 273,000 were born in Pakistan and the remaining 180,000 are US-born. Pakistani-American population has more than doubled in the last decade due to increased immigration, according to US 2010 Census data.  Pakistani-Americans (pop: 450,000) are the seventh largest community among Asian-Americans, behind Chinese (3.8 million),  Filipinos (3.4 million), Indians (3.2 million), Vietnamese (1.74 million),  Koreans (1.7 million) and Japanese (1.3 million), according to Asian-American Center For Advancing Justice . They are still a minuscule fraction of the overall US population.

Trump's Anti-Immigration Policy:

The demographic changes since 1965 have angered many Republican white Americans who support immigration restrictions and voted for President Donald J. Trump in 2016 general election.  Trump has called Mexicans "criminals and rapists", complained about letting in people from "shit-hole" countries and imposed ban on entry of Muslims from several countries. His efforts to further restrict overall immigration have met with significant resistance from Congressional Democrats.

Here's a brief video clip of the documentary Roots in the Sand on Punjabi Mexicans:

https://youtu.be/236AWbnDtBc




Related Links:

Haq's Musings

South Asia Investor Review

New York's Little Pakistan

Pakistan is the 3rd Largest Source of Foreign Doctors in America

Pakistani-American Stars in "Big Sick" Movie

Pakistani-American Population Growth 2nd Fastest Among Asian-Americans

Muslims in Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley Pakistani-Americans

A Dozen British Pakistanis in UK Pariament

Trump and Modi

OPEN Silicon Valley Forum 2017: Pakistani Entrepreneurs Conference

Pakistani-American's Tech Unicorn Files For IPO at $1.6 Billion Valuation

Pakistani-American Cofounders Sell Startup to Cisco for $610 million

Pakistani Brothers Spawned $20 Billion Security Software Industry

Pakistani-American Ashar Aziz's Fireeye Goes Public

Pakistani-American Pioneered 3D Technology in Orthodontics

Pakistani-Americans Enabling 2nd Machine Revolution

Pakistani-American Shahid Khan Richest South Asian in America

Two Pakistani-American Silicon Valley Techs Among Top 5 VC Deals

Pakistani-American's Game-Changing Vision 




5 comments:

Rashid A. said...

This is excellent.

I have access to some old pictures of that era.

Also there is a documentary “Roots in the Sand”. A very powerful documentation of early arrivals from Punjab. Very emotional too!

I also met a Mexican Punjabi whose father was a Muslim from Tandalianwala. He said there is an organization of Punjabi Mexicans.

Riaz Haq said...

How South Asian Americans Are Building a New American Dream
They're expanding on the success of their immigrant parents, creating a blended cultural identity—and turning the tables on old stereotypes.

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/09/south-asian-american-stereotype-kondabolu-simpsons/#close

At Hoboken, New Jersey’s City Hall, Ravi S. Bhalla, the new mayor, stands in front of portraits of past mayors. An Indian-American civil rights lawyer and a Sikh who wears a turban to express his faith, Bhalla was elected in November. “We are a diverse and welcoming community,” he says.

“Thank you, come again!” a heckler yelled mockingly in a thick, faux Indian accent. The phrase is instantly recognizable to millions of fans of The Simpsons television show as the signature utterance of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, who is portrayed unabashedly as a racial stereotype: the thrifty, borderline unscrupulous, and somewhat servile Indian convenience store owner.

To Kondabolu, those words at a show in October 2015 were even more familiar. Like many people of South Asian heritage in the United States, Kondabolu had “Thank you, come again!” aimed at him countless times while growing up. Now his irritation found expression in a smiling comeback. “I know you from high school, even though I don’t,” he said, pointing at the heckler. “You are the reason I do comedy, sir.”

---
One of his early jokes was a riff on a caption he says he read on a picture of the Koh-i-Noor diamond, which is part of the British crown jewels, describing the precious stone as having been found in India in the mid-1800s. “Right. It was just found in India. It wasn’t taken from India. It was just found there,” he says, because Indians didn’t know what diamonds were and were “grinding them up, putting them into curry,” and making “diamond biryani” until “luckily the British showed up.” Another joke was about how his mother would pretend to call adoption services whenever he and his brother were being troublesome. “One day we discovered there was nobody on the other end of the phone, and so the next time she said it, I told her I would be calling immigration, and that ended that.”

--

Kondabolu is one of many second-generation South Asian Americans, predominantly of Indian heritage, who have gained prominence in mainstream American comedy in the past few years. Their success represents a significant milestone in the integration of people of South Asian descent into American society. By mining their immigrant experience for laughs, Kondabolu and others are giving expression to a self-assurance that many first-generation immigrants did not have.

The increased visibility of South Asian Americans in popular culture mirrors the rise of this relatively new immigrant group in various walks of American life—in science, medicine, technology, business—and now increasingly in politics and public service, as exemplified by Ravi S. Bhalla, the new mayor of the largely white city of Hoboken, New Jersey, who, like many Sikh men, wears a turban. In recent years South Asians have been one of the fastest growing immigrant groups in the United States, increasing in population from 2.2 million in 2000 to 4.9 million in 2015. About 80 percent of the demographic is Indian, with a median annual household income of $100,000—nearly double the median for all U.S. households.

Even though some communities with roots in South Asian countries, like Bangladeshis and Nepalis, are generally far less affluent, the overall success of South Asian Americans is no mystery. It can be partly explained by U.S. policy, which since the 1960s has selectively encouraged educated foreign workers and high-performing students to immigrate. Owing to its large English-speaking population, a result of British colonialism, and the quality of some of its educational institutions, India became a major source of such talent. And family-based immigration opened the doors to a broad array of South Asians.

Riaz Haq said...

Coming to America
The making of the South Asian diaspora in the United States

https://caravanmagazine.in/reviews-essays/south-asian-diaspora-united-states


ON A SEPTEMBER NIGHT IN 1907, an angry mob of about six hundred white people attacked and destroyed an Asian Indian settlement in Bellingham, in the north-western US state of Washington. Many of the traumatised residents fled to Canada. A San Francisco-based organisation called the Asiatic Exclusion League, dedicated to “the preservation of the Caucasian race upon American soil,” blamed the victims for the riot, adding that the “filthy and immodest habits” of Indians invited such attacks. Despite the small number of Indians in the United States—there were fewer than 4,000 at the time—the Asiatic Exclusion League had been warning of a “Hindu invasion” of the country’s west coast. Two months later, another angry white mob struck a settlement of Indian workers in Everett, Washington, forcibly driving them out of the town. In 1910, the US Immigration Commission on the Pacific Coast deemed Indians “the most undesirable of all Asiatics” and called for their exclusion.

Many anti-immigrant laws had already been enacted against other Asian communities, starting with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. In 1907, a new law in the western US state of Oregon barred all Indians from becoming permanent residents (the state had long excluded black people). In 1913, California passed the Alien Land Law, mainly targeted at Japanese immigrants, after which California’s attorney general also barred Indians from owning property in the state. In 1914, at a congressional hearing on “Hindu immigration” led by a vitriolic representative from the seventh congressional district of California, Indians were variously called “a menace,” “thick-headed and obtuse,” illiterate, carriers of strange diseases, people who worked “too hard for too little,” and, according to a purportedly “scientific” document, “likely to deplete the vitality of our people, as the Negro had done.”

Now fast-forward a century. In an expression of poetic justice, California’s voters elected Kamala Harris, an Indian American, as the state’s attorney general in 2010. Two years later, the same seventh congressional district of California elected Ami Bera, another Indian American, as its congressman. Today, there are over three million Indian Americans, making up 1 percent of the US population. They are by far the richest and most educated ethnic group in one of the richest and most powerful countries in the world. They are disproportionately employed in high-status, high-skill professions. Their median household income is nearly twice as high as that of white households in the US, and they attain graduate and professional degrees at nearly four times higher rates than whites. They furnish over 10 percent of the labour force in computer-related and many other technical fields. Indian Americans have served as CEOs of some of the most iconic US corporations, including Microsoft, Google, Adobe, PepsiCo, Mastercard, McKinsey and Citibank. They are also increasingly becoming visible in spaces that have long been inhospitable to them, such as politics, arts and media. Add to this their low rates of poverty, incarceration, divorce and reliance on public welfare, and one can see why Indian Americans are sometimes called a “model minority” in the United States.


Riaz Haq said...

American Immigration and Ethnicity by Gerber and Kraut.

Historically, Indians have rejected foreign ways and foreign people as profoundly corrupting, even polluting, as they endured centuries of foreign domination. In the 19th century, Indians who went abroad were obliged to undergo elaborate purification rituals when they returned. Today the problem is identified not as loss of ritual purity but as loss of culture. Immigrants, by leaving the motherland, and immersing themselves in an alien cultural contexts, have lost their Indian-ness. Overseas Indians are thought to have lost their language, their morals, their religion, their sense of community, and their connectedness to India. In pursuit of foreign wealth, they have adopted the soul-less, anomic, and licentious ways of the alien.....they are not considered "real Indians".

https://books.google.com/books?id=-20YDAAAQBAJ&q=purification#v=onepage&q=purification&f=false

Riaz Haq said...

American Immigration and Ethnicity by Gerber and Kraut.



Today, new arrivals, legal and undocumented alike, find ample opportunities for employment in the United States. Migrant workers cross the Mexican border plant and harvest. Their low-cost labor keeps the prices of fruits and vegetables  inexpensive for Americans. They often take jobs in the service sector that are either so low-paying or undesirable that native-born workers refuse them. However, at the other end of the scale, well-educated newcomers from China, India and Pakistan are transforming America's high-tech industries, especially in the areas of computer technology. The computer has rejuvenated home work. Men and women can support their families, working in a variety of industries that require online labor. 



The expansion of hospital based medical care, and the institutions of broad-based social programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid in 1965, resulted in the need for thousands of skilled professionals. The 1965 Immigration Act, which abolished national quotas in favor of those based on professional status, aimed to encourage the immigration of professionals. Thousands of unemployed professionals  from India and Pakistan flocked to the United States............Medical graduates especially were encouraged , with offers of free apartments and secure jobs at hospitals. 



https://books.google.com/books?id=-20YDAAAQBAJ&q=purification#v=onepage&q=Pakistan&f=true