May 29th, 2011 | Published in Sikh & Punjabi Language Studies
In early May, the Center for Indo-Canadian Studies at the University of Fraser Valley hosted the first of its kind conference on Punjabi Diaspora, called Transnational Punjabis in the 21st Century: Beginnings, Junctures and Departures.
The occasion commemorated the 100-year celebrations of the Sikh Temple and National Historic Site in Abbotsford BC, Canada. Dr. Eric Davis, Provost and Academic Vice President of University Fraser Valley hosted the opening reception, and Mayor George Peary officially welcomed the participants to the city of Abbotsford. The three-day conference took place from May 5-7, 2011 at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV), in Abbotsford, British Columbia.
Exactly a century ago in 1908, determined pioneers from Punjab, India came together against many odds to build one of the first Sikh gurdwaras in North America – the Khalsa Diwan Society Gur Sikh Temple – in the small rural community of Abbotsford, BC. The Gurdwara opened in 1911 amidst much fanfare and ceremony. This historically significant gurdwara was designated as a National Historic Site by the Canadian Government in 2002 and is the only gurdwara in the Americas to be bestowed with this honor.
In honor of the centennial, the Centre for Indo Canadian Studies at University of the Fraser Valley hosted this international conference. The theme of the conference was built on the concept of juncture as a point of time, especially one made critical or important by an occurrence of circumstances. The conference questions the juncture of transnational Punjabis in their collective realities and imagination in the 21st century and/or departure from accepted norms. The goal was to collectively better understand the guideposts for this transnational cultural community in its continuous trajectory of immigrant. settler, citizen, activist, futurist and leader roles.
The objective was and continues to develop a greater understanding of Punjabis in the 21st century as a transnational entity with an ever-evolving identity, form and development of communities. The conference sought to engage national and international scholars on Punjabi Diaspora, Migration, Transnational Communities, Religion, Language, Literature, Art and Culture, Identity and Cultural Politics.
In a special report, we’ll be bringing you three distinct, thought-provoking papers highlighted from presenters at the conference.
First, Sikhs in Canada- A Centennial Celebration: Some Significant Events presented by Kanwal Neel, Associate Director of Education at Simon Fraser University. Neel discusses the significant achievements Sikhs have made in Canada including the right to vote and elect Sikh politicians, the right to learn Punjabi within the public school system, and right to serve in the Canadian armed forces wearing a turban. All of these events and more have had a significant impact on the Sikh Community that are often overlooked and have played a big part in shaping Canadian history.
Second, A Century of Sikhs in California: From the Periphery to the Center presented by Bruce La Brack, School of International Studies. La Brack discusses the extraordinary transformation of Sikhs from the first 60 years where Sikh pioneers primary presence in the U.S. was in the Imperial Valley and Yuba City areas and how they have moved from a metaphorically “Peaches and Punjabis” phase of their U.S. history to a much more central, successful, privileged place as the “Silicon Sikhs”. Dr. La Brack outlines how this remarkable transformation has occurred and a portrait of contemporary Sikhs in California.
Dr. La Brack has conducted over thirty-five years of research on the impacts of the South Asian Diaspora on North America. He is the author of The Sikhs of Northern California, an ethnographic study that will be reissued in late 2011.
Finally, the keynote speech on the Global Potential of Our Community was given by Dr. Narinder Singh Kapany, widely acknowledged as the father of fiber optics and the Chairman of the Sikh Foundation. Dr. Kapany gave a comprehensive account of the history of the Sikhs and the future potential of the Punjabi diaspora around the globe. He highlighted not only the current challenges and problems affecting the Sikh diaspora but also the many accomplishments made in the last hundred years and how we continue to be one of the most progressive religions today.
We hope you enjoy the upcoming presentation series on the Transnational Punjabis in the 21st Century. We encourage your comments and feedback- please share your thoughts with us and visit the Sikh Foundation on Facebook and Twitter to continue the discussion.
Sheena Singh & Ranjanpreet Kaur