The Sikh Journey in America Conference

Saturday, September 22, 2012, 8am to 6pm

Faye Spanos Concert Hall, University of the Pacific

3601 Pacific Avenue, Stockton, CA 95211

“The Sikh Journey in America” Conference was an academic conference featuring 16 scholars offering a Western perspective on the 100-year history of Sikh settlement in the United States of America, emphasizing Sikh-American involvement in civil rights struggles, the independence movement of India, and U.S. politics. This was the first national Sikh-American event to take place after the tragic Oak Creek, Wisconsin shootings of Summer 2012. This conference was followed one week later by the Punjabi-language “Voyage of the Ghadar conference.

Click here for details on the speakers and their topics.

Click here to download a PDF copy of the academic paper abstracts from the conference.

[Read local coverage from the Stockton Record: “Sikhs honor rich history in Stockton“]

Conference Celebrates ‘100 Years of Sikhs in the USA’

Originally published October 9 by India West. Written by a staff reporter.

The Sikh American community launched its centennial celebration at the University of the Pacific here Sept. 22 with a conference about “The Sikh Journey in America” and the inauguration of a Gadri Baba Museum.

The museum is located at Gurdwara Sahib Stockton, the first Sikh settlement in the United States. To celebrate the settlement, 16 scholars prepared 19 academic papers on the history and culture of the Sikh American community.

Traveling from as far as India and Canada, the scholars gathered at the home of Dr. Sohan Singh Mahil on the night of Sept. 21 to plan for “The Sikh Journey in America” conference.

An audience of 700, many of whom were Indian Americans, listened to speeches about how early Sikh pioneers founded the Stockton Gurdwara in 1912 and formed the Gadar Party in 1913. The party’s goal was Gadar, meaning “revolution,” against British occupation of the Indian subcontinent.

Speeches also addressed the racial bias suffered by many Sikh immigrants to the United States and their struggles to secure rights to land-ownership and citizenship.

Between lecture sessions, the audience enjoyed an exhibition hall featuring posters depicting the history of Sikh Americans, the Gadar Party, India’s independence movement and Sikhs in both world wars.

In his opening remarks, Dr. Amrik Singh of California State University in Sacramento declared: “This conference is about the truth that escapes our grasp.”

Mayor Ann Johnston of Stockton also greeted the conference, praising the Sikhs for their democracy and defense of equal rights, saying they have “continually contributed to the good in the city of Stockton.”

Session I opened with Inder Singh, chairman of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin who spoke about “Dalip Singh Saund: From Stockton Gurdwara to the U.S. Congress.”

“His victory was a landmark of epic proportions for the United States. He was born of uneducated parents, from a small village in Punjab, and identified with middle-class values of the people. Saund has become an iconic figure,” Singh said.

While Dr. Jasbir Singh Mann spoke on the origin of the Gadar movement and three of its leaders — Har Dayal, Savarkar, and Bhardwaj — Dr. Nirmal Singh Mann from the University of California at Davis recounted the plight of Pakher Singh Gill, a precursor of civil rights hero Cesar Chavez.

Because Asians were denied the right to own land, Gill made a verbal agreement with white owners to lease and cultivate their farmland. In 1925, after they cheated him out his profit from the crops, he killed two of them. Upon his release after 14 years in San Quentin Prison, he lectured on equal rights for all in the United States, England, and India, Mann noted.

Dr. Paul Englesberg of Walden University concluded the first session with a speech on the 1907 Bellingham riot in the state of Washington, when a mob drove nearly 200 hard-working Sikh immigrants out of the town.

In Session II, Dr. Hugh Johnston of Simon Fraser University talked about the immigrant ship Komagata Maru. In 1914, immigration authorities turned the ship away from Vancouver. When it returned to India, British authorities accused its passengers of involvement with the Gadar party and massacred 19 of them.

Dr. Karen Leonard of the University of California at Irvine spoke about the origins of the Punjabi-Mexican community. Because restrictive immigration laws prevented immigration by South Asian women, she said, many Sikhs married Mexicans. There were almost 400 of these couples; their children embraced both cultures.

Dr Amrik Singh concluded the second session with an examination of the Pacific Coast Khalsa Diwan Society, formed in 1912 by Teja Singh, a Harvard alumnus who studied at Columbia University and Cambridge University.

Session III featured a series of lectures on the Gadar Party by Dr. Jaspal Singh of Regional Institute of English, Chandigarh; Dr. Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon of Punjab University; Dr. Tejwant Singh Gill of Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar; and Dr. Gurmel Singh Sidhu of Fresno State University.

The Sept. 23 program was held at the Stockton Gurdwara, where the brand new Gadri Baba Museum, which houses an exhibition of historical panels depicting the Gadar movement and other aspects of Sikh American history, was inaugurated.

Its premier artifact is the printing press used by Kartar Singh Sarabha to print The Gadar newspaper, the first Punjabi-language publication in the United States. In 1915, Sarabha was hanged by the British at the age of 19.

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