Yuba City - A Mini Punjab In California
Indeed, we had the most pleasant surprise driving around in Yuba City. It looked like out of the U.S. city, where a throaty Sat Sri Akal is the preferred form of greeting; where you can speak Punjabi and not be the odd man out at the local gas station, at the doctor's clinic, even at the stores. We came across people strolling around nonchalantly in Punjabi suits, and some of the nameplates, believe it or not, in Punjabi. As you talk to people - you are told Punjabi is taught in the high schools; that there are three gurudwaras, including one of the largest in the world; that every Friday, for an hour beginning 8 pm, the residents huddle around their TV to watch their favorite program, Apna Punjab.
The story of the Asian Indian community in Yuba City begins at the turn of the 20th century, when early immigrants from the Punjab province in erstwhile British India came down here. Male immigrants then faced a peculiar problem - the existing laws prohibited them from bringing their wives or marrying whites. They consequently entered into nuptial ties with co-workers, mostly Mexican women, who were taken as browns like the Asian Indians. To them were born the little-heard-of Punjabi-Mexicans. The Mexican women became Indian women. They learnt Punjabi cooking and made rotis and curry, adding a tinge of Mexican flavour to it. They mixed tomato sauce and made Spanish rice to go with the curry. Immigrants from Punjab arrived in droves in the Fifties, after immigration laws were relaxed post WW II, gradually changing the demography of the area. More important, they were also allowed to bring their Punjabi wives, consequently spawning a culture in which the Punjabi element dominated the hybrid variety of the earlier generation.
The Sikhs of Yuba City form the biggest farming community in California. Gurnam Pamma left his family farm in Punjab and boarded a plane with $8 his father gave him. It was 1971 and he was headed toward Sutter County to toil the farmland for $1.35 an hour. Today Pamma is 57, owns 1400 acres of farmland and wont stop toiling. Didar Singh Bains, called the Peach King of California, came from Nangal, Punjab in 1958 to work as farm laborer at 70 cents an hour. He bought his first farm in 1962 and grew apples. Bains Farms is now one of the biggest growers of prunes, walnuts, almonds, grapes and wine-grapes. The story of Pamma or Bains isn't an isolated anecdote in Sutter and Yuba Counties, where Asian Indian immigrants from Punjab have built family orchards with a little bit of money, but a lot of hard work. Today many of them own palatial houses in Yuba City and drive flashy German cars.
In 1969, Sikhs in Yuba City constructed one of the world's biggest gurdwaras, to commemorate 500 Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak. To celebrate the anniversary of the first installation of Guru Granth Sahib Ji, there is a huge celebration on the first Sunday of every November. The annual parade draws 40,000 to 50,000 from all parts of western USA. It is the largest gathering of Punjabis outside of India. Another big festival is held on the last Sunday of May. This Punjabi American fiesta is a much-awaited event and attended by people not only from the Yuba- Sutter area but also from neighboring states and Canada.
After praying at the gurdwara, we stopped for lunch at the Taste of India restaurant, known for excellent Punjabi cuisine. We came to know that other Indian restaurants, Jimmy's Restaurant, Lovely Sweet and Chat House, Star of India Cuisine and Taj Mahal are equally popular for their great food. Thanks to the guidance of the restaurant owner, we were ready to explore the places of interest in and around Yuba City.
Known as the Gateway to the Gold Fields, Yuba-Sutter offers a rare mlx of Gold-rush era communities and the historic downtown shopping opportunities. The lakes, rivers and mountains stimulate your senses and satisfy your camping, boating and fishing needs. Outdoor and cultural activities abound year round in the Marysville/Yuba City area. The area is also called “Feather River Valley, named for the river that divides Yuba City from its neighbor Marysville. To enjoy the entire area and all the recreations offered therein, we needed a longer vacation. Still, we were more than happy to have seen Pluma Street, the heart of downtown Yuba City, Yuba Sutter Mall, downtown Marysville, Ellis Lake and Bicentennial Living Witness Tree on Highway 99, a valley oak that has been identified as being over 200 years old, standing at the time of the signing of the U.S. Constitution.
It was time to wind up our day long trip to Yuba City, but we could not bid goodbye to it without wowing to come back to fully enjoy the flavor of Punjab in the rest of the Yuba-Sutter region. Until then, we are contented to cherish the cultural charm of Yuba City, the Mini Punjab in California.