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Indian immigrant ties to Central Valley go back 130 years
Deep Roots
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The Sikh Temple in Turlock.

Didar Singh Bains, who passed away in 2022 at age 84, is part of the California fabric.

It’s a fabric whose richness, strength, and diversity we often fail to appreciate.

Bains’ story starts in Punjabi, a state in northern India, where he was born in 1938 and given his first name that aptly translates as “vision” or “visionary.”

Punjabi is a compound word marrying “five” and “waters.’

The region was bestowed the name “Punjabi” due to the five rivers found there.

Bains came to the United States in 1958 with $8 in his pocket.

He labored in the fields and orchards of California from the Imperial Valley to Sutter County where he ended up settling.

It is there in 1962 that he bought 10 acres of farmland.

Bains ended up becoming known as “The Peach King” thanks to a work ethic that often saw him in the orchard at 4:30 a.m. and working until 8:30 p.m.

At one point, he was the largest peach grower in the United States and likely the world as well.

Bains took the three tenets of Sikhism —living an honest life, sharing with those in need, and thanking God — seriously.

He founded the Yuba City Sikh Festival in 1980 that takes place in early November and draws 100,000 plus each year.

Bains did so because he believed it was important to let people know Sikhs were fellow Americans, law-abiding, and wanted the same things other Americans wanted for their children.

In 1965 he became the youngest president of the Stockton Gurdwara Temple — the oldest Sikh house of worship that was founded in 1912.

He also helped fund the building of other Sikh temples, including the one in Yuba City. Bains also founded the World Sikh Organization in 1984 as an advocacy organization for the community.

Consider this a long introduction to how we may harbor misconceptions about the nearly 40 million people who call California home.

Punjabi is a state in India.

There is not one religion in Punjabi or India for that matter.

The major religions of India include Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, and Buddhism.

Others include Baha’i Faith, Jainism, Judaism, and Zoroastrian to name a few.

The first immigrants from Punjabi started arriving in the United States in the late 19th century. And most were Sikhs.

In the initial “wave”, some 3,000 people from India came into the United States via Angel Island, the West Coast’s answer in the Northern San Francisco Bay to New York’s Ellis Island.

Most initially ended up in the Central Valley providing they manpower to build California’s fledging agricultural industry.

The 1917 Asiatic Barred Zone law slowed immigration down to a trickle.

A new quota system replaced that law in 1943.

But it wasn’t until 1965 immigration reform when significant growth in immigration occurred. By the end of 2021, those arriving from India were the second largest groups of immigrants to the United States behind Mexicans and ahead of Chinese and Filipinos.

Unlike late 19th century immigrants from India, most today arrive via employment of family-sponsored avenues under United States immigration laws.

Roughly four-fifths of adult Indian immigrants have a college education.

That has led to Indian migrant households to have median household incomes more than double of other immigrants and native-born Americans.

As for Punjabi Americans, they now number almost 320,000 according to the Census Bureau. Many of them are Sikhs who are descendants of those who first settled in California almost 130 years ago.

Roughly half of all Punjabi Americans (156,700) live in California and account for 0.42 percent of the state’s population. New York is a distant second with 30,341 Punjabi Americans.

Most Punjabis in California are in the Central Valley and Bay Area.

Numerically, Yuba City has the highest number of Indians at 11,000 with the vast majority being Punjabi Americans.

Punjabi Americans account for 12.9 percent of the population of Sutter County.

That makes it the most proportionately Punjabi American county in the United States.

Livingston, in Merced County, has 2,798 Indian Americans residing within its city limits or 19.9 percent. Again, most are Punjabi. As such Livingston is proportionally the most Punjabi American municipality in the United States.

Closing on a peachy note inspired by the success of Didar Singh Bains, incorrect assumptions are everywhere.

More than a few people believe Georgia, because its nickname is The Peach State, is ground zero for growing peaches in the United States.

It’s not even close.

In 2022, Georgia produced 5,500 tons of peaches out of the 543,000 tons grown nationally.

California was the No. 1 peach state at 445,000 tons.

Sutter County by itself grew 111,500 tons, more than 20 times the amount of peaches Georgia grew.

An immigrant who arrived in the United States with $8 in his pocket grew more peaches than The Peach State.

How’s that for American work ethic and ingenuity rooted in Punjabi and California sensibilities?

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This 2021 photo shows Congressman Josh Harder, left, chatting with shot clinic volunteer and Doctors Hospital of Manteca registered nurse Angrad Chahal. Looking on are Sikhs for Humanity leaders Harry Dhillon, who serves on the Mountain House Community Services District board, and Garry Singh, Manteca council member. The Sikhs group helped stage the free COVID vaccine clinic in Manteca.