First Sikhs Face Major Problems: The History of the Sikhs

Bruce La Brack. Sikh Sansar. June 1974.

They arrived almost unnoticed at first. Coming mainly through Canada just after the turn of the century, the Sikhs of the Punjab could hardly have foreseen the place they and their children would earn in American life. In fact, few of the early Sikhs actually set out to immigrate to the United States.

Most of the “old timers,” as these pioneers are known, were initially recruited by British agents for railroad labor or for jobs in Canada's important lumber industry, but many found the conditions and pay less than promised and the climate a bit too Himalayan. Moving southward along the Washington and Oregon coastal valleys, the Sikhs eventually found their way into the northern Sacramento Valley, the San Joaquin Valley and, by 1908, were near El Centro in the Imperial Valley of extreme Southern California.

These first Sikh groups faced tremendous odds. They were generally without any working capital, had little formal education, and were entering a new society at a time when racial prejudice and economic sanctions against “Orientals” were rising.

However, several things were clear to these hardy farmers: the land was rich, water was ample, and the climate was very much like that of Hoshiarpur, Jullunder, Ludhiana and Amritsar. Above all, there was an opportunity to earn money for themselves and for those they had left behind.

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